Q&A: Hanover’s ‘Ring Man’ Rod Swain on being part of the Dartmouth community
Known for his popular jewelry and amiable personality, Rod Swain — also known as the “Ring Man” who sells jewelry at an outdoor stand between Molly’s Restaurant and Hanover Town Hall — has long been embraced by students as a member of the Dartmouth community. As he approaches his 12th year selling jewelry in Hanover, Swain sat down with The Dartmouth to talk about how his business, Sterling Silver, has played a part in the community.
How long have you been selling jewelry in Hanover?
RS: I got here in 2010. This the end of my 11th year, and I'm out here about year-round, about 150 days per year, and in the winter maybe only 10 days a month in the colder months.
Why did you decide to come to Dartmouth?
RS: I met a lady who used to sell hot dogs here on the street, and she said that there used to be somebody here selling jewelry and they weren't coming back anymore. She told me this, I think in 2006, and at that time I wasn't ready to do it. I had a wholesale business selling to gift shops, traveling around New England, doing the same type of thing for 30 years before that. But, a few years later I decided I was sick with the wholesale business. And so I thought I'd come here and give this a try. So, I just came and rented an apartment in the area and decided to just give it a try. And it worked out!
What attracted you to the jewelry business?
RS: I met somebody that was making jewelry when I was 23 years old, and I decided I'd like to give it a try. So I did. Then I just added other things. I don't make all of what I sell, so I just added those other jewelry pieces to the line that I was carrying.
How do you choose which jewelry pieces to sell?
RS: I try not to narrow it down too much. I just like to try a wide variety of things, and then I reorder what sells. I do have a lot of things that I probably shouldn't have tried, but I just figured I didn't want to miss some of the good sellers by narrowing it down too much. I actually have about 700 different designs in each size of ring. The rings sell more than anything else — the rings and the hoop earrings.
How has being in a college town impacted your business?
RS: I enjoy being in a college town. When I was up near Burlington, Vermont, it was also a college town. I just like college towns in general. I've enjoyed going to a lot of the athletic events. I see students walking by with backpacks that say what sport they’re in. I get talking to them and end up going. I go to probably 30 athletic events a year when I have time to. I try to encourage other people to go to the games too, so that's been fun.
I was here for a few years before I went to an athletic event. And then about four years ago, a hockey player, Alyssa Baker ’19, gave me a complimentary ticket to a hockey game and that was the beginning of me going to about 30 games a year. So that was really nice of her. I just said, “I might go to the hockey game tonight” and she said, “I’ll put a ticket in your name there.” That got me started on going to all the games.
How has COVID-19 impacted your business?
RS: After we closed in March, I didn't come back out much until July. I would say business, like for everybody else, was down about 70% for the year, just for missing graduation and not having parents, families and prospective Dartmouth students being able to come to town.
What has been your best encounter with a customer?
RS: I don't know if there's one best encounter. I just enjoy seeing the customers finding something they like, and it gives them a little bit of joy on a day that maybe they weren't feeling great. Just knowing they walk away with a smile.
Are there certain times of the year when you feel really connected to the College?
RS: Graduation. I mean it's actually a happy and sad time for me when I see the students at graduation because I know they've worked so hard to get that far, and they're saying goodbye to friends. They will see them again, but some are just acquaintances at college. Based on my experience of going to college, I know there were a lot of them that weren't close friends that I would never see again, except at a reunion. So it's really sad to see them saying goodbye. That's when I'm most connected to Dartmouth.
How would you describe your time here in Hanover using one word?
RS: Satisfying. I feel like, as I said, I enjoy just seeing people happy when they find a piece of jewelry that they want. I try to keep the prices very reasonable, so it can be fun and they don't have to make a big decision. Most of my items are between $5 and $15, so I'm keeping it at a price where a five-year-old can buy a ring or anybody can buy it.
As a ’24, I’ve heard a lot of people say good things about you and your business. How does it feel like knowing you’re such a big part of the Dartmouth community?
RS: It makes me feel good. Sometimes I feel like if somebody stops and they're trying to buy jewelry, I get sidetracked. I know they're probably here to buy a ring. They probably don't want to talk about the game they played, you know, so I try to fight back from getting into a long conversation. I'm just trying to be here if they want to stop or if they want to just wave on the way.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.