According to Whitepages.com, there are 6 people in the United States and Canada named Fred Halpern. But around Chicagoland, there's only one, and to meet him is to love him.
Fred grew up in south Chicago, where his father was a local jeweler. Around the Halpern house, there was always an emphasis on working hard, having fun, and loving each other.
Even though Fred was born into a family of jewelers, he had other aspirations. After high school, he headed off to the University of Alabama, where he studied physical education and had dreams of being a coach. But the jewelry fates would not be ignored.
The summer after his junior year, Fred arrived home to some interesting news.
"We own that store in Indiana now, you got it," said Fred's father. The store he was referring to was Albert's Jewelers in East Chicago, Indiana. The store was bankrupt, empty, and had no customers. But if Fred could make a go of things, it was his.
The first year, Fred sold $27,000 in merchandise and didn't see a dime for himself. The second year, he did $36,000. He still didn't get paid.
"I said to (heck) with this (stuff); either I'm gonna make it or I'm not. I started staying open until after every movie theater closed. All the other jewelry stores were closed; everything was closed but me. If a guy came out of the movies with his girlfriend ... he could buy her a pair of earrings for a buck."
Fred worked day and night. He cleaned the store, he stocked it, and he sold merchandise. He outhustled his competition. But it wasn't all about making an almighty dollar.
"I never once thought about making millions of dollars. I conducted business honestly and fairly… and I took care of my employees and our customers." In addition to his work at the store, Fred gave to organizations big and small, and helped his friends and neighbors around the East Chicago store.
It would be five more years before Fred would start to enjoy the fruits of his labor, and just in time… he was about to start a family of his own.
Fred and Donna Halpern met through mutual friends in 1967. They married on Valentine's Day 1968, a day that is celebrated at Albert's each year with marriage ceremonies for customers and friends of the store. Fred and Donna had two children, Josh and Holly. Business was picking up, and Fred was enjoying his career.
"In those days, as long as you were honest and good to your customers, you could sell anything."
Albert's Jewelers continued to grow, with entrepreneur Fred blazing a trail with fresh and fun marketing and some of the area's first-ever cable TV commercials.
Not that life didn't present stumbling blocks. In the eighties, Donna was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. In 1996, Fred lost his brother, Ken, to AIDS.
"I stayed with Ken at the hospital in NYC from morning until night for 11 days before he died. People from all over the world came to see him when they found out he was dying. It was very touching."
Unbroken, Fred continued to build his business, while he tirelessly raised funds and donated his own time and money to the organizations that had become part of his life. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, The AIDS Foundation, The Red Cross – the list is far too long to mention. But Fred's generosity didn't stop there. He sponsored the local baseball team. He started a program to honor students who had shown the most improvement over the school year. He awarded public workers, police offers, firefighters, nurses and teachers for their hard work. And as he continued to put good out into the world, it came back to him.
The 4000 square foot store in East Chicago had become too small for the business. It was time to take the store to even great heights, and Fred knew he needed to move the business to do so.
In 1992, Albert's Jewelers became Albert's Diamond Jewelers, rebranded by Fred's son Josh, a graduate gemologist who was raised in the business and taking a large role in the direction of the company. The store moved to Schererville, Indiana, and business took off.
One of the largest independent jewelry stores in the country, Albert's features a world –class repair and custom design shop, appraisals on site, and one of the largest selection of diamonds, designer jewelry, and watches in the country.
In September 2012, Josh, now president, broke ground on a 9000 square foot expansion to the Schererville location.
In October 2012, Fred presided over the ribbon cutting for the newest Albert's location in Westfield Southlake Mall.
Between the two stores, Fred employs more than 100 workers. Each week day, 300-400 people walk through the doors to his stores. Each weekend day, that number can double. Fred's customers are like family to him. He walks the floor, says hello, and hands out hugs and kisses to everyone in sight. Smiles abound, while the music pumps and shoppers select items for themselves and their loved ones. The energy inside the store is contagious.
As Fred gazes out on the scene, he joins in with a smile of his own. "I'm building stores, I'm hiring people, I must be doing something right."