Meet The Puzzle Masters Of The South Bay

Mike Colgan
January 14, 2019 - 12:15 am

One of the most popular things for sale at the Unicorn thrift shop in South San Jose are jigsaw puzzles. 

But before a secondhand puzzle gets placed on the store's shelf, Jean Hembrooke and her husband Emil go through the painstaking process of assembling it. 

"We never know whether it's complete or if there's pieces missing," said Hembrooke, who's volunteered at the shop for 24 years. "We're not going to sit down and count each piece. We do the puzzle and make sure that they're all there."

The Hembrookes' kitchen table is puzzle central where Jean and Emil put the pieces together. A thousand-piece puzzle takes them about a week to finish. 

They've been married for 57 years and love working together on the puzzles, although they have different approaches. 

Jean works within the puzzle's border while Emil prefers to fit sections together on the side and then drop them into larger board. 

"I'll take a piece of the puzzle that looks interesting…and just work on it outside and build up and build up around it," said Emil. 

It's a lot of work for a $2 sale, but they say doing the puzzles helps them stay connected. 

"It's good to do some things together," said Emil.