Electronics Repair Shop To Close After Long, Long Run
December 10, 2010
A friend of mine was picking up a coffeemaker when I walked into the past to see Herbert Rubenstein's TV and electronics repair shop in Hartford not long ago. He handed Rubenstein a $10 bill even though the 84-year-old mechanical whiz had declared the job free of charge, with nothing he could do to fix the machine.
"I didn't want to take it," Rubenstein said. "But the way things are today …"
Tough times, indeed, in the business of fixing TVs, stereo equipment and other electronic devices.
The business has never been a big moneymaker for Rubenstein, through untold ups and downs in 64 years of shops in West Hartford and Hartford. He wasn't getting rich even when he had three repair technicians and an office assistant.
Now he's struggling in an age when there's barely enough repair work to keep the lights and the heat on. But he's not complaining.
"I get pleasure out of doing things that no one else wants to do," Rubenstein said Thursday in his shop at 1477 Park St. in the city's Parkville section. "Some people look at it and they say, 'Throw it away.' "
After six years in a first-floor warren of rooms in a historic industrial building, so filled with vintage equipment and old documents that a move seems impossible, Rubenstein says he's closing shop. He is not retiring, he says, with watery eyes through roundish wire-frame glasses. He's going virtual.
Rubenstein will still repair old Pioneer, Nikko, KLH, Sony, Advent and countless other brands. He'll do it at people's homes, and wherever he can find an available bench near the West Hartford home where he lives with his wife, Lynn.
What will happen to the endless rows of equipment, which Rubenstein insists still have value but that Lynn won't have in the house? It will sell through an eBay auctioneer, he says — and soon. For now, everything is priced to move.
Rubenstein has said before that he would get out of the shop — a partnership of his longtime business, Herbert Electronics, and Star TV and Computers, owned by Amber Parvez. This time, he insists, it will happen. But work and widgets keep coming in the door.
Just this week, a customer brought in three 8-track tape players. One sat on Rubenstein's bench Thursday, cranking out "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" in the music of a carousel, a tape Rubenstein made decades ago.
His eyes lit up when he described the fix, which involved WD-40 "plus the hot soldering iron to soften up the grease."
Rubenstein openly admits that his accumulation habit is an illness. "The illness is I enjoy it," he said, but it's serious enough that he once went for a free consultation at the Institute of Living. "They said I don't need help. I need a little bit of self-control," he said.
This is the passion for a trade that made America great, and it's no coincidence that it started in Rubenstein's childhood in New Britain, where his family owned a fur shop — nothing he wanted to pursue. The passion followed him through a stint in the Army in World War II and, afterward, where he was in the first wave of occupiers in Seoul, South Korea.
They don't make solid-state, analog receivers with lighted dials anymore and they don't make the likes of Herbert Rubenstein. But he's not a dinosaur. Just this month, he's worked on a few flat-screen TVs with ease, although the cost of repairs often matches the cost of replacement.
And so the shop will close, or so he says, with sadness — over the unsustainable business that he can't quit, not over the work itself. "I want to end this circus. The fun is gone," he said as darkness fell Thursday.
And with it, a piece of our heritage.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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