In 1865, as the Civil War came to a close and the town of Alexandria, Louisiana began to rebuild, two optimistic Scotsmen named Ferguson and McKinney opened a jewelry store and watch repair business at the corner of Front and Murray streets. Alexandria did not have river levees at the time, and the store, perched right on the banks of the Red River in the heart of the downtown area, was well positioned to benefit from the very active river traffic in this important port city.
Five years later, Carl A. Schnack, left Hamburg, Germany and came to Alexandria to work as a watchmaker for Messrs. Ferguson and McKinney after working briefly in New York. Soon, C.A. Schnack purchased the interests of Mr. McKinney and then Mr. Ferguson, renaming the store C.A. Schnack Jewelry Company. The name remains to this day, and his direct descendants have owned the business throughout the years.
Over the years, Alexandria prospered with its river traffic and as the center of the state, and so did Schnack’s. The store grew and changed hands within the family as the years went by, and locations changed several times. Nell Schnack Hunter, daughter of C. A. Schnack, and her husband, Frank O. Hunter, purchased the business in 1916. In 1928, Carl S. Carstens, son of Lizzie Schnack Carstens and grandson of C. A. Schnack, joined the business and became a partner with Mr. and Mrs. Hunter in 1936.
The history of Alexandria and of Schnack’s is intertwined with another war, World War II. Several military camps sprang up in Central Louisiana to prepare the country for war. In 1940 Schnack’s doubled in size and added china, glassware, and gift departments, becoming one of the largest jewelry and gift stores in the South.
Carl Rand Carstens, son of Carl S. Carstens and great- grandson of C. A. Schnack, returned to Alexandria in 1953 after military service and became the fourth generation of the Schnack family to join the business. In 1967, Mr. Hunter retired and sold his interest to Carl S. Carstens, Carl Rand Carstens, and Ken P. Carstens, (also son of Carl S. Carstens and great grandson of C. A. Schnack). In the 1980’s, Bill and J. Pitts Carstens, great-great-grandsons of C. A. Schnack and sons of Carl Rand Carstens, joined the business, becoming the fifth generation.
A branch opened in 1974 at the Centre on Jackson St., which became the main branch of the store in 1995 when the downtown location closed. In 2005, Schnack’s moved again to its new larger home, under the clock tower on Dorchester Drive.
Schnack’s has seen many changes over the years. No longer are ledgers handwritten. Guns, fishing tackle, radios, kitchen appliances, and cameras — inventory staples throughout the years — are no longer in stock. Today the store is known for its diamonds, gold jewelry, engagement rings, and fine gift items. Bill Carstens travels to Antwerp, Belgium to choose diamonds for the store’s customers, making Schnack’s a true diamond importer.
One thing that has not changed, however, is our goal to give our customer the best value for his money. The customer who rode his horse up to the store in 1865 is the same value conscious customer who drives his or her car into our parking lot today. With outstanding quality, personal service and excellent value as hallmarks, the descendants of C. A. Schnack continue the store’s legacy into the 21st century.
Carl R. Carstens
Certified Gemologist (CG)
Bill Carstens, RJ (AGS)
Registered Jeweler (RJ)/Diamond and Colored Stones Certified
J. Pitts Carstens
Repair Dept. Manager
Certified Master Jeweler
Jewelers of America
Jannie K. Shipp
Heather Wood, CSA (AGS)
Certified Sales Associate (CSA) AGS