Ventura fix-it master passes, a new generation of repair technicians emerges

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

Young died on January 31. He had just turned 86, and much to his frustration, the man who had been known virtually his entire life for fixing things knew his body had reached the point where it could no longer be fixed.

He had already come back from the brink of death in 2016, after falling nearly 30ft while repairing a flagpole on Solimar beach. He broke all his ribs on his left side, punctured his lung, fractured his pelvis, broke his shoulder blade and suffered a severe concussion. Yet months later, he managed to reopen the Fix-It Shop and work harder to extend the life of the community’s most prized possessions.

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

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

Stallings is now one of the last of his kind, a repair expert whose shop has been in the same Camarillo Square, across from the post office, since 1972. Like Young, Stallings repairs fans, lamps, vacuum cleaners, razors and small appliances like sewing machines, blenders and toasters.

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

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

“Now that I’m retired, I only work five days a week,” Stallings said.

To take over, he trained the next generation. His son also works in the company. Stallings said he was discouraged by the prevalence of cheap electronics, but encouraged by some promising trends for the future of the repair industry.

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“I first noticed it with women’s handbags,” he said. “People buy good quality items and have them repaired, spending more upfront but saving money in the long run.”

Mobile phone repair shops have also attracted many customers. Typically, young people working in these stores follow step-by-step instructions to fix a limited number of issues, such as replacing screens or batteries.

However, some of these businesses are more of a cross between a cell phone repair shop staffed by technicians and an older repair shop.

For example, William Shifflet, the 28-year-old owner of Gizmo Wizard in Oak View, repairs many cell phone parts, as well as other Apple devices and PCs.

Sam Alahakoon, owner of Omega Cellular in Ojai, explained why repairs have become more technical and applicable to fewer products. He said manufacturers were making repairs more difficult.

One trick used by manufacturers, Alahakoon pointed out, is the threat of voided warranties for third-party repairs, which he says are often the only type of affordable repair for phone parts not covered by warranty. It does some cellphone repairs, but for warranty service on iPhones, it redirects customers to Apple stores.

Crystal Young, Huey Young’s niece, learned some of the ropes of the repairman trade from her uncle. She converts used objects into lamps and sells them on Facebook Marketplace.

She also plans to run her beautifully restored 1938 Chevy coupe and drive it up the coast.

David Goldstein, environmental resources analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at david.goldstein@ventura.org or (805) 658-4312.

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