On a recent Friday afternoon, Kammie Osborn was huddled over nine-year-old Eva Matteson’s rock collection, verifying the names and helping to identify some of the trickier minerals.
“We went on a huge trip and every place we stopped you could get some rocks,” Matteson said. “I asked her what the names are for some of them and to make sure that the rest were right. Today I bought a rhodochrosite, a seraphinite, and a black tourmaline. I also got some small rocks because I want to try to make jewelry.”
For Osborn, owner of Jan’s Rock Shop in San Juan Bautista, helping young people with their interest in these geological specimens is her favorite part of the job. This year marks the shop’s 34th anniversary.
“It is so exciting to see them when they come in,” Osborn said. “They are interested in seeing all the different colors and learning how the various types of rocks are quarried.”
The shop was founded in 1986 by Pearl Masterson and Eugene Donlan as TOPS Rock Shop, an acronym for “turquoise, opals, pearls, and stone.” The first location was at 5 Second Street in San Juan Bautista.
“They were both rock enthusiasts,” Osborn said. “Eugene was a gemologist and owned a turquoise mine in Arizona. They traveled around the world, bartering different stones in exchange for their turquoise.”
The “Jan” in Jan’s Rock Shop is a nod to the previous owner, Janice McClintock, who started in the rock business with a store in the midwest called Baubles, Bangles, and Beads. In 2007, she bought the rock shop in San Juan from Masterson and Donlan. She moved it to the old IOOF building at 1 Polk Street, the current location of Credo Studio.
“She was a wonderful person,” Osborn said. “She did not have any children so she kind of adopted mine. She taught my son Lathan how to drill stones to make necklaces and taught my daughters how to make earrings.”
After five years at that location, McClintock moved the store to its present location at 209 Third Street.
“We were not doing well at that location,” Osborn said. “It was just a little too far off the beaten track. When we got the chance to move down to Third Street, business really took off.”
McClintock passed away in 2017 and through an arrangement with her estate, Osborn took over the shop. As of Jan. 6, she has owned it for three years.
Since the early days in the first small shop, the store has expanded to carry everything from raw minerals and stones to faceted gems, carved figurines, jewelry, meteorites, and fossils.
“Our fossil room has everything from fish from the Green River Formation, ammonites, trilobites, amber pieces, fossilized sand dollars from Morocco, and part of the jaw of a Mosasaurus,” Osborn said. “The kids who come in love the dinosaur poop, coprolite, which actually polishes up quite nicely.”
Benitoite is the rarer of the two. The mineral is sapphire-colored and fluoresces to a bright blue. In 1985, it was named as the official stone of the State of California. Gem-quality examples sell for around $1,400 a carat.
Osborn has the stone in gem settings, as large crystals, and as a special necklace designed by McClintock, a miner made of silver holding a small piece of Benitoite.
Poppy Jasper is more common and a favorite among those who attribute healing properties to minerals. It is available at the shop as polished stones and jewelry.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, visits to San Juan by school buses filled with elementary school students gave Jan’s Rock Shop a chance to create new generations of rock collectors through educational programs held there, led by Susi Harlow, president of the Carmel Gem and Mineral Society.
“It seems to encourage kids to start rock collections of their own,” Harlow said. “I love it because then they have tactile experiences and not just the experience of seeing something on a screen or in a book. You might learn something from a screen but there is nothing like the feeling of digging into the dirt, finding a mineral, and holding it.”
Though the pandemic has kept the buses away, Osborn works to make the experience of visiting her shop fun and educational.
“I obviously miss the students coming through,” she said. “But I still try my best to provide a service for the children who come in. Some of them know so much they actually teach me stuff! It is amazing to see how intrigued they are by what we have to offer.”
Harlow, who learned about mineralogy from her father, a mining engineer, is also looking forward to the day she can resume lessons.
“I can’t emphasize enough how unique the rock shop is,” Harlow said. “It is a great place to see the treasures of the earth.”
Jan’s Rock Shop is located at 209 Third Street in San Juan Bautista and is open Monday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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