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Mall Brands: Piercing Pagoda

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Experts are quick with a piercing gun and quicker to ring you up.

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When you enter a piercing parlor, you're really entering the halls of history. Ear piercing is one the oldest recorded forms of body modification. Five thousand years ago, Egyptians would pierce their ears with elaborate, golden rings to show off their wealth and virility. Today, millions of Americans replicate this ancient practice in the holiest of institutions: the Piercing Pagoda.

It may surprise you to know that these little shops -- despite its unassuming location across the way from Arby's -- actually bring in a quarter of a billion dollars in revenue for Zales (ZLC), the parent company that acquired Piercing Pagoda in 2000. But it took more than 30 years for Pagoda to grow into the piercing empire it is today.

The year was 1969. As the war in Vietnam raged, America's youth coalesced into a massive countercultural movement. From Berkeley to Woodstock, kids were intent on expressing their individuality and rebellious spirit.

You could say the timing couldn't have been more perfect for Bernard and Bertha Cohen to open up a piercing shop. The couple found a vacant kiosk in the Whitehall Mall in Whitehall, Pennsylvania. According to the company's history, the "venture was an immediate success, as women looking for a convenient way to have their ears pierced would come to the kiosk from up to 100 miles away."
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The Cohens used their piercing platform to expand into the business of selling jewelry. This model proved so successful, that today Piercing Pagoda is considered the nation's largest specialty-kiosk retailer of gold jewelry. In addition to piercing products, Pagoda sells low-cost 10-karat and 14-karat gold chains, charms, bracelets, and rings.
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