Little Watch Repair Shop Closes – October 15, 2012

Monday, October 15, 2012

John M. Jones

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

NINTH STREET – Thirteen years ago, John M. Jones opened Northcoast Watch Repair at 924 Ninth St., in the little strip of shops across from Co-op.

There, he made a modest living servicing Arcatans’ timepieces with repairs, adjustments and upgrades. Jones’ shop carried on a grand tradition of independent artisans who provide a vital, specialized service for the community. Ads for similar niche tradesmen fill the pages of Arcata Union newspapers of a century back.

But times and technology have changed, and as Jones’ clientele has ebbed away, with it has gone his livelihood. Last week, Northcoast Watch Repair closed its doors for the last time.

Jones needed just $130 a day in business to keep his shop open. The bulk of his business consisted of changing batteries, making band adjustments and sometimes replacing stems, crowns and crystals. He’d charge a few bucks a job.

Jones likes the work, wants to keep doing it and until recently, he was making a go of things. But technology, the town and the times have moved on.

“Arcata’s changed a lot,” Jones said. “It seems like all they want is hydroponic shops and taco trucks in this town.”

Watches aren’t what they once were, either, with glitzy new models integrating the strap into the case. “So many now have straps you can’t change,” he said.

Until recently, his worst day in terms of business was Sept. 11, 2001. With Arcata and the U.S. gripped by the horror of 9/11, few were concerned about their watches’ well-being, and Jones did just $35 business that day. “I thought, ‘Wow,’” he said. “Now, that’s the norm.”

A week ago Thursday, Jones had just two customers. The next day, only one, making a $7 purchase.

“That doesn’t work,” Jones said. “It was getting really ugly at the end. Maybe I just don’t fit in in this town any more.”

He sees the travelers lumbering past his tiny shop, their massive backpacks silhouetted in the sunny front window, and wonders if the town has swung too far in their direction.

“It seems like the transients have more rights than the business owners any more,” Jones said. “I’m not against them at all; I know they need a place to go.”

He thinks traveler aversion may be part of Arcata’s problem. “It doesn’t seem like people want to come into Arcata. They say, ‘I only come to Arcata for you and a couple of other businesses,’ but I don’t even get that so much any more.”

Before opening his shop, Jones worked out of Long’s Drugs for two years. He’d like to find a similar situation. “I don’t even need this much space,” he said. “Just a small corner in somebody’s store where I could set up.”

If he can’t carry on with watch repair, he’ll have to find something else to do. “If you hear  of any jobs, let me know; I’m getting desperate fast,” he said. “I can cook.”

But that’s not his preference. Jones would rather carry on practicing his craft.

“I’d like to do this,” he said. “I don’t know if I need to go to another town.”

Contact John M. Jones at (707) 273-2276.