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Warren Buffett's Omaha Jewelry Retailer Cuts Jobs As Recession Slows Sales

Warren Buffett's big jewelry retailer in Omaha is feeling the recession's sting.

Demonstrating that even 'luxury' stores backed by billionaires aren't immune to the economic downturn, Borsheim's has laid off 13 employees from "across the company," a reduction of 4.6 percent. It now has 267 workers.

The company is owned by Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire's home page prominently features a link to Borsheim's along with a quote from Warren E. Buffett: "If you don't know jewelry, know the jeweler."

Borsheim's Watches & Accessories page features a picture of Buffett showing his "Watch Choice": a Raymond Weil NE Husker Logo Watch, available for $995.

Borsheim's single 62,500 square foot store anchors the upscale Regency Court mall in Omaha. It plays a starring role at Berkshire's annual shareholders meeting, hosting an enormous party each year and, of course, selling jewelry to attendees at a special discount.

Marketing Director Adrienne Fay tells me sales were good at last month's shareholders meeting, but not good enough to make up for a trend of falling sales that began last November.

Borsheim's has "already implemented many cost-cutting measures ... in an effort to preserve the jobs of our loyal associates." Despite those efforts, "it has become necessary to lay off employees" for the first time in the store's 100-year-plus history.

In a statement, Borsheim President Susan Jacques says:

"The loss of our staff members is devastating. This is the absolute last thing we wanted to do. While we are hopeful that we might see signs of an economic recovery in the fourth quarter of 2009, we had to make extremely difficult decisions out of a fiduciary responsibility to Berkshire Hathaway and its shareholders to continue to remain profitable despite these challenging times.”

Jacques goes on to say that Borsheim's will continue to be a strong business and Omaha landmark in spite of the "challenging conditions."

A web page on career opportunities at Borsheim's says the retailer's company mission is "exemplary customer service" and notes that "our family-friendly atmosphere is one in which our employees are the most valued gems in the company."

As one comment on the web site of NBC affiliate WOWT-TV in Omaha puts it, "It's scary when a company like this lays people off... things must be really bad."

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