ASTORIA — Frank Van Winkle can recall when digital watches were a rare marvel and a clock repair license was necessary for working in the industry.
“I got my clock license in 1979,” Van Winkle said. “In 1980, they decided you didn’t need a license anymore.” Change has been a constant for the 67-year-old Van Winkle, owner of Loop-Jacobsen Inc., a small mom and pop jewelry store at the corner of 1360 Commercial St. since 1960. The store offers an assortment of rings, bracelets and necklaces, but specializes in clock and jewelry repair and design.
Van Winkle is aware the times are changing within the industry, something he’s witnessed firsthand through the passing of time. Once a thriving profession, he can recall when there were a couple clockmakers in Astoria, but now believes he is the last in the county.
“I’m the only one from Clatsop to Tillamook,” he said. Time has essentially stopped for business on the corner of Commercial Street.
“We’ve been in this location since 1960 — I’ve been on this block longer than anyone else,” he said. Three photos on the wall depict owners past and present spanning back to 1919.
“Originally, this store started as Schultz-Jacobsen on Exchange Street,” Van Winkle said. “Mr. Loop bought out Mr. Schultz in 1932 and my dad worked for Mr. Loop.”
Van Winkle’s parents eventually bought the business from the Loop family, but retained the name Loop-Jacobsen Inc.
“And my parents said, ‘Why don’t you come work for us?” Van Winkle recalled. In 1982, he went to work for the family business. In 1988, he took over the business for good. While the business has been in good hands with Van Winkle, the future is less certain. “None of the kids are doing it,” he said. “It’s going to come to a point where we all die off.”
The majority of clocks today are manufactured, and most of Van Winkle’s efforts center around repairing them. He estimates that 75 percent of the business is clock repair and 25 percent retail sales.
“I do a lot of battery clock replacement now, which I didn’t do before,” Van Winkle said. “But I still get mechanical clocks too.” The majority of repairs are clocks made in the 70s and 80s.
“German clocks were very popular then,” Van Winkle said. “But they weren’t using a very good brass and they would wear out.” Older clocks are often easier to repair.
“They don’t require a lot of bearing replacement or anything like that,” Van Winkle said. “They’re just solid clocks.” Van Winkle has his favorites.
“The clocks I really love are Chelsea Ship’s Bell Clocks. They’re heavy, well-made clocks. They’re a pleasure to work on because everything fits so well.” Atmos clocks are another he enjoys repairing, though he rarely sees them.
“They run on air pressure and temperature variations. As long as you have a few degree temperature change a day, they’ll keep running forever,” Van Winkle said. “They’re a $5,000 clock, but at one time they were giving them away as retirement gifts.” While Van Winkle doesn’t repair wristwatches, he’s witnessed the changes in their evolution.
“When I first started, digital watches were very expensive and very rare,” Van Winkle said. In 1972, the Hamilton Watch Company released the “Pulsar P1,” the world’s first all-electronic digital watch. The new technology came with a $2,100 price tag — equivalent in price to a Chevrolet Vega or Ford Pinto at the time. The advent of digital watches meant better accuracy and less maintenance, but costs were beyond most consumers at the time.