A few weeks ago, a friend of mine took his malfunctioning stereo amplifier to Best Buy and was told it was too old to be repaired. He got the same response from a couple of specialized audio stores. It was a mid-range solid state unit, far better than the low-end high-wattage junk that people used to mate with tower speakers that had eight drivers each, but not a hand-made tube unit favoured by audio snobs. He was going to give in and buy something new, but on the way home, as a last resort, he dropped it off at the repair shop around the corner.
You’ve probably seen a place like this somewhere in your home town, crammed with electronic detritus that dates back decades–turntables, tape decks, amplifiers with dials instead of LED displays, and console televisions with rotary tuners instead of remotes–and staffed by a lone individual who toils away amidst the piles of junk.
You’ve probably wondered how places like this stay in business. I’ve wondered this myself. After all, we live in a world of disposable electronics, extended warranties and planned obsolescence. When something breaks, we swap it for something better and newer or throw it away. Few of us do our own repairs. In many cases, we can’t because of the complexity of the products. In other instances, we are prevented by housings that cannot be opened without breaking or that require specialized tools. Apple’s ipods are famous for having non-user-replaceable batteries, but if you’re hellbent on doing it yourself, you can find simple instructions on the web.
As it turns out, Mr. Fix-It (let’s call him that for convenience’s sake) was able to repair my friend’s amp at a fraction of the cost of a new unit, sparing him the extra expense. But how many of us would have gone that route, accustomed as we are to big box stores, the lure of the new, and available credit? Repair shops are a dying breed, pushed out of public consciousness by the manufacturers and retailers of consumer electronics. They often exist in poorer neighbourhoods or areas with aging populations that don’t feel the pull to upgrade with every product cycle. But eco- and value-conscious consumers are turning to such establishments to repair otherwise disposable items like toasters and coffee makers. Audiophiles rely on them because vinyl sounds better than MP3s, and tubes are much warmer than transistors and integrated circuits, and because it is far cheaper to repair old units than to purchase new ones. (Good quality turntables and tube amps are still being manufactured but they command a premium because there is far too little demand for economies of scale).
The shot above is from the storefront of John’s Color TV on Dundas Street West in the Junction. It’s one of the many independently-owned businesses in a neighbourhood that is becoming increasingly gentrified. As younger couples move in to replace the older immigrant population, is it only a matter of time before this corner shop becomes a Starbucks?