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Sunday, December 13, 2020

Patronize the Creative Clock Service Center

     Suburban Clock and Repair has been on Front Street in Berea, Ohio since long before I was born: 1953, to be exact. Growing up the clock shop, as we called it, was a place of wonder, for its fat antique Elgin pocket watches, and the enormous German cuckoo clock that the owner was constructing in the basement.
     When my parents left Berea for Boulder, Colorado, my mother bought me a beautiful Hermle mantle clock that I had my eye on for years, for its deco numerals and sloped wooden beauty. The transaction has an almost mythic place in my memory, as there was no drama, no wheedling, no mitigation of any kind. She bought it for me because I wanted it,  as a we're-leaving present, as a souvenir of my home town and I suppose a kind of solace.
    For 30 years it has sat somewhere in my house, on my mantle in the city, when we had a mantle, on Logan Boulevard and Pine Grove Avenue, or on the Shaker hutch in our dining room in Northbrook. Sometimes I have it set to peal the quarter hour, sometimes not, according to my whim.  Once a week I wind it.
     A few decades ago, the clock mechanism gave up the ghost, and I had it replaced by the Chicago Clock Shop in Palatine. I know this because of a sticker they placed inside, the smallest advertisement ever.
     Eventually, there was a mishap: the tiny circular nut that holds on the hands managed to fall off in such a way that it was lost. My theory is that it fell into the round face glass, then made its break for freedom when I opened the glass to wind the clock, not noticing. It vanished, going to wherever tiny round nuts go when they don't want to be found. 
     The nut wasn't vital. The hands stayed on. Mostly, but perhaps gently vibrated by our footfalls, or passing trains, the hands would eventually shiver off, and collect in the bottom of the front glass. Dynamic action on my part seemed required. 
     I started by calling Chicago Clock. I tried to make the job easy for them, by first going online and figuring out exactly what kind of clock I have—a Hermle Stepney mechanical tambour mantel clock (a tambour is a round embroidery frame, and must refer to the circular glass face of the clock, which swings open for winding). I told Chicago Clock that I'm looking for the tiny brass serrated hand nut that holds the hands on.
    "We have those," the man on the other end said.
     Success! God, this was easy.
     "Great," I said. "I would like to buy one and have you mail it to me."
     "We don't send parts through the mail."
     Ah. A complication. "Why?" I asked.
     "We've had a bad experience sending parts through the mail."
     And I've had bad experiences writing stuff, but I still do it.
     He gave the impression that he had a box filled with such parts, and would just give the nut to me, but I would have to show up and get it. In Palatine. A half hour drive. Not bad. Sixty minute round trip. It would be an outing. I could take the clock with me, strapped into the back seat, to get it eyeballed while I was at it.
     But something grated. They should be able to mail the nut to me. Amazon manages. Eli's manages to send four pound cheesecakes packed in dry ice across the country. Thinking I would find Another Way, I went to Ace Hardware and bought the smallest nut they had. It was hexagonal, but it cost 23 cents. It was still too big.
     So I went online, and appealed to several other clock shops. One in Michigan. And another in Oregon. I explained what I was looking for.
     Creative Clock in Eugene, Oregon called and left a message. They had the nut, and I didn't have to drive to the West Coast to get it. They would send it to me for $7, total, including shipping. Before I could return his call, Amber, from the Michigan store phoned. They too had the nut, and would sell it to me. For $28. Plus $4 shipping.
     I went with Oregon. The nut arrived in three days. And I was left with a sense of wonder. One place wanted $4 for what another wanted $28; a factor of seven. Quite a lot, really. That's like one car dealer wanting $15,000 for a car, and another $105,000. For the same car. While the third place, the local place wouldn't even try. Because putting the nut in an envelope and mailing it was several orders of complexity beyond, say, repairing a broken clock.
     And since Chicago Clock might read this, I should add that you did a great job putting a new mechanism into the clock, and should it once again break, I'll return, and I hope you'll let bygones be bygones. But geez, it's 2020. Mail stuff.
     Oddly, until this moment, I never considered asking Suburban Clock, back in Berea. Maybe because I've walled off that part of my life, and if I made a habit of reaching out to folks back in Berea, I'd soon find myself sitting on the Triangle on Front Street, watching the cars go by, like Forrest Gump. I'm very glad to have the nut in place, and the clock working, chiming the quarter hour, bonging the hour. It makes me feel like I have an ordered and established life of quiet dignity and leisure, even though I have nothing of the sort, except in this one regard.


  1. Be glad you don't live in Rogers Park. We're lucky to get mail once a week here & sometimes it's not even the correct mail.
    Because I have Informed Delivery from the Post Office, I know what mail is coming from the daily emails. So some of my mail has been 10 days late, which isn't as bad as the Polar Vortex a couple of years ago when we didn't get mail for 13 days!

  2. If you haven't listened to the Serial/This American Life podcast S-TOWN, you should treat yourself. It's the bizarre tale of an Alabama clock restorer and a hunt for hidden treasure and so much more.

  3. Glad it worked out for you. Old clocks are fascinating.

    Until I read this, I didn't know they had locations other than Clarendon Hills and Michigan Avenue. Last September we had our 34 year-old grandfather clock serviced by Chicago Clock's Clarendon Hills location with wonderful results.

    Joe, the technician, spent two hours at our place. He was a walking clock encyclopedia. He had to take our clock mechanism back to the shop with him and order a new one from Germany from the only company that still makes them.

  4. It feels a bit unfair to compare a local clock shop to Amazon or Eli’s. Their business model is not predicated on mailing things out, and they don’t have staff and logistics in place to do so. You’re looking at it from your perspective: “Why can’t they do this little thing for me?” But how much money could they make from that transaction vs the amount of time to do it? And no doubt they prefer to get people in the shop so customers can see the items they hope to sell, which is where they probably make a significant portion of their income. That works also explain the Michigan store’s price. That’s the amount that makes the effort worthwhile to them.

    If you had made the trip to Palatine, you probably would have paid less than $7, and saved yourself the time researching other shops and calling them. And knowing you, you would have come out of the store with at least one other interesting column!

    1. i second that emotion, nicely played.

    2. Counterpoint: There used to be something called "customer service." He's a returning customer who had the same clock worked on there before. For this particular transaction, "the amount of time to do it" would not have been very much. Personally, these days, I wouldn't have considered entering a shop to pick up such a small thing that could (and was) easily purchased via mail. If he had made the trip to Palatine, he wouldn't "have come out of the store with at least one other interesting column." That column, if indeed he wrote it, would have precluded this one! :)

      I'm just glad he mentioned Suburban Clock in the final paragraph, so I didn't need to ask about it. That would have been the first call I'd have made and I would have enjoyed the satisfaction of both the hometown aspect and getting the part from the same place I got the clock.

  5. I'd of ordered two. Cause I'd drop the first one as I attempted to thread it onto the spindle and after crawling around on the floor with a flashlight for 20 minutes and not finding it at least I wouldn't need to order another.

  6. Suburban Clock in Berea is an amazing place. Bought my wife an engraved alarm clock there twenty years ago, and it's still ticking away on our coffee table. They've also fixed the vintage Jefferson "mystery clock" on our mantel...Those are the classic Deco-style clocks with the hands on a glass face and no numbers around the edge.

    I always wanted one of those "Golden Hours" clocks, even as a kid in the Fifties, and I finally found one in Ann Arbor in the early Nineties. Suburban Clock replaced the original motor with another one that I ordered from Arizona. When that motor later slowed down, they replaced it, and charged me twice as much for the new motor and the labor. But it was worth it. Those clocks now fetch big bucks.

    Both my wife and I worked around the corner from the clock shop for a number of years, and I've always liked the Berea. Wish I lived there. It feels so tranquil and laid-back, like the college towns where we both went to school. Nothing at all like the West Side of Cleveland, just ten miles away, where we have to watch our backs so much of the time.

    But of course, you grew up in Berea, which makes it feel a whole lot different. I grew up a couple of towns away from where you are now, Mister S, and I probably feel the same way about the northern suburbs as you do about Berea. I, too, have walled myself off from that part of my life, the years from age seven to age eighteen.

    Sure, I have countless nostalgic memories, and I like to write about them, but I've also declined the invitations to class reunions over the decades. Too many jerks ended up remaining jerks. They just got older, grayer, heavier, richer, more smug, and pompous. Though most of the houses haven't changed, everything else has. It's not my Old Orchard anymore. You can't go home again.

    1. I don't mind going back to Berea. I always think of the Who line from "White City Fighting"—"I couldn't wait to get out, but I love to go home." It was a very small place. No restaurants, but a music store, Beswick's, run by Mr. Beswick, who, I later learned, was born in 1876. I went to most of my high school reunions, and was glad of it. I remember looking around—this must have been my 10th, because I wasn't married yet—thinking I was the most successful guy in the whole class, with the hottest girl friend. It was not a bad feeling.

    2. Missed my tenth.Only went to one other reunion...held the year we turned forty. I was a never-married muffie (middle-aged urban failure (Newsweek wrote a story about us) making less than recent college graduates. A lot less. My live-in girlfriend (whom I married four months later) had no interest in attending, and claimed she was sick. So I went alone.

      There were hundreds of alumni, and their partners, at the gathering. It was a big school. I found my eighth-grade crush. Her beautiful naturally red hair was now blonde, the same color as everyone else's. But the laugh and the smile and the look in her eye hadn't changed. We sat in a corner, and had a very interesting evening.

      After the ball was over, the ex-jocks and the former "cool kids", now the movers and the shakers, the wheelers and the dealers, the brokers and the commodities traders, barred me from their after-party in the private suites upstairs. Like I said, the jerks were still jerks. Forty going on seventeen. I was pretty bummed, for about a week. It was not a good feeling.

      There've been a few more such soirees over the past thirty years. I stifled any thoughts about going back. Why go cruising for more bruising? So I didn't.


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