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EYE ON THE ENVIRONMENT | Repair expert passes away, new generation of repair technicians emerges – VC Reporter | Times Media Group


Pictured: Sewing machine repair is one of the services offered at several fix-it shops around the county. 

by David Goldstein

“They don’t make ‘em like they used to.” That saying applies to not just manufactured goods, but also to people like Huey Young, who ran the Fix-It Shop in Ventura for five decades.

Mr. Young died on Jan. 31. He had turned 86 on Jan. 7 and to his great frustration, the man who was known all his life for fixing things knew that his body had reached the point where it could no longer be repaired. 

He had previously come back from the brink of death in 2016, after falling nearly 30 feet while repairing a flag pole on Solimar Beach. In that incident, he broke all the ribs on his left side, punctured a lung, fractured his pelvis, broke his shoulder blade and received a major concussion. Yet, months later, he managed to reopen the Fix-It Shop and put in more work prolonging the lifetimes of the community’s prized possessions.

He fixed vacuum cleaners, sewing machines, restaurant equipment and “10,000 other gizmos and gadgets,” he told me when I first wrote about him, following the accident.  

“Huey used to take on the craziest repair jobs,” said Walt Stallings, owner of Pop’s One Stop Repair Shop in Camarillo. “He could even fix cars and bicycles and anything metal with welding work that no one else would attempt.”

Stallings is now among the last of his kind, a fix-it expert whose shop has been in the same Camarillo plaza, across from the post office, since 1972. Like Young, Stallings repairs fans, lamps, vacuum cleaners, shavers and small appliances like sewing machines, mixers and toasters. 

“You don’t see the new, Chinese-made junk come in for repair,” he said. “That kind of stuff might have a five-year warranty, and it might last that long, but then three months later, that’s when it breaks. It’s really just the old stuff, like your mother’s sewing machine, that people want to repair.”

Stallings multiplied his customer base by adding leather repair and reconditioning to his repertoire of repair. An assistant he hired specializes in fixing shoes and belts. He can even put a lining onto the back of a lizard or crocodile skin belt. 

Stallings said, “Now that I’m retired, I work only five days per week.” To pick up the slack, he has trained the next generation. His son also works in the business. Stallings said he is discouraged by the prevalence of cheap electronics, but also encouraged by some promising trends for the future of the repair business. “I noticed first with ladies’ purses,” he said. “People are buying good quality items and getting them repaired, spending more at first, but saving money in the long run.” 

One specialized type of fix-it shop has attracted new businesses and young employees learning a technical, but widely needed, form of repair. Every city has a shop devoted to cell phone repair. Typically, young people staffing these shops follow detailed directions to repair a limited number of problems, such as replacing screens or batteries. Some of these shops, however, are more of a cross between a cell phone repair shop staffed by technicians and an old-time fix it shop. For example, William Shifflet, the 28-year-old owner of Gizmo Wizards in Oak View, repairs many parts of cell phones, as well as other Apple devices and windows computers. 

Sam Alahakoon, owner of Omega Cellular in Ojai, explained why repairs have become more technical and applicable to fewer products. He said manufacturers are making repair more difficult. One trick manufacturers use, he pointed out, is the threat of a voided warranty for third-party repairs, which, he says, are often the only type of affordable repairs for the parts of the phone not covered by a warranty. He does some cell phone repairs, but for warranty service on iPhones, he redirects customers to Apple stores. 

Crystal Young, Huey Young’s niece, learned some of the tricks of the repair trade from her uncle. On Facebook Marketplace, she reuses items which she converts into lamps and sells. She also plans to maintain another repaired legacy of her uncle. She plans to keep his beautifully restored 1938 Chevy coupe running and drive it up the coast.

 

David Goldstein, an Environmental Resource Analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at david.goldstein@ventura.org or 805-658-4312.

 





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