DOERUN — There is no shortage of rocks in southwest Georgia, from the massive hunks of flint frequently unearthed along the bottom of rivers and streams to those strewn hither and yon in the soil.
In a shop in Colquitt County, Anthony Michniak and Andrea Burgess have imported an international contingent of multicolored stones and jewels from Brazil to Russia and from every state across the country.
“We’re excited to be based in this area and open up a store,” Burgess said of the 123 Broad Ave. location of Naturally Cool Gems & Jewels in Doerun.
Michniak, a Raleigh, N.C., native, got into the rock business in 2013, putting in 30 weekly hours of work in the business while holding another job. He pursued it full-time beginning in 2015.
Burgess’ expertise is in jewelry, which she learned growing up in her father’s store in Bainbridge and as an intern at Allen’s Jewelers in Albany.
Six years ago they met through the online craft site Etsy and started having daily phone chats. They started going on rock mining expeditions together, and Michniak eventually moved to Burgess’ hometown.
They bought a house in the Doerun area in the summer of 2019 and continued operating at home before deciding to purchase the building in downtown Doerun that would become Naturally Cool Gems & Jewels. After more than a year of being cooped up in the house during a pandemic, it offered a place to focus more on business and separate home and work lives.
“You get stir crazy with the coronavirus and two kids,” she said. “It’s nice to have a separate place to do business.”
During the time of COVID, most of the business has been of the online variety, but in-store traffic is picking up.
There are no similar stores in the area, with the closest being in Thomasville, and there was nothing like it between Florida and Atlanta.
“People who look for metaphysical crystal stones have found us,” Burgess said. “People used to driving two hours to Tallahassee say, ‘There’s one in Doerun? What?’ We have people who come in who are overwhelmed. They come in and buy one or two and come back. We did really well at Christmas with people buying rocks.”
Recently Michniak and a friend recorded a rap performance they did as a lark, and it has brought them attention. While only about 2,000 people had viewed it, he estimated one out of every two customers who walks in the door mentions having seen it.
“We’ve had 70-year-old women say they’ve seen the video online,” Michniak said.
This week a Doerun man came in to purchase rock slabs to cut himself for his hobby pursuits.
Michniak said anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the business is wholesale of bulk rock to other retailers. With the storefront, the couple have expanded retail sales and they also do trade shows.
“It’s a fun business,” Burgess said. “All the people we meet are enthusiastic.”
The biggest online retail sellers are selenite, a light-colored crystal that can be shaped into lamps or most anything else, and quartz.
“The most abundant mineral and most traded is quartz,” Michniak said. “But there’s all kinds of quartz.”
As a jeweler, Burgess works in a variety of metals, from high-end gold and platinum to copper. She creates some of her work using interesting rocks as well as traditional pieces such as engagement rings and also does jewelry repair.
Being in a small town hasn’t been a hindrance, and there is a large amount of traffic on Highway 133 that links Albany to Valdosta, Michniak said.
After deciding to leave Bainbridge, the couple embarked on a search for a house, in cities including Tifton, Valdosta and beyond.
“We almost bought a church one time,” Michniak said. “We drove to Macon, and the Realtor didn’t feel like showing the house.”
After seeing a house being auctioned near Doerun, they drove up to check it out.
“We put it in Google maps and saw the house,” Burgess said. “The house wasn’t locked, and we went inside and said, ‘This is not bad.’ We sort of fell in love. Two acres and a chicken coop, and this is our dream.
“We’ve actually tried to convince friends to come to this area to open businesses. It’s awesome how sweet the people are.”