June 15, 2013

Community loses vital cog in the clock repair business

Jerry Fishman, 80, hangs it up after working for decades in a field with a rich history in Connecticut.

By EVE SULLIVAN The Advocate of Stamford

STAMFORD, Conn. — After decades in the clock repair business, one Stamford man recently decided it's time to retire.

click image to enlarge

Jerry Fishman examines a valuable calendar clock in the basement workroom of his home in Stamford, Conn. Fishman, one of the last repairmen of his kind in Stamford, has retired after decades in the clock repair business.

Lindsay Perry / Stamford Advocate

This isn't good news for the customers of Jerry Fishman, who is apparently one of the last repairman of his kind in Stamford.

"The customers I had, they still call, but I tell them I'm not available anymore," Fishman, 80, said during a recent interview at his home .

When he retired from working as an industrial arts teacher, Fishman went to work at George's Clock Repair Service, where he learned the craft from owner George Feldman. Fishman learned quickly from Feldman, surpassing his mentor.

"He taught me, I was very mechanical, so I got to do clocks faster than he did," he said.

Feldman repaired clocks at Bloomingdale's department store, once downtown, before opening his own business on Sixth Street. It later moved to the Ridgeway Shopping Plaza (where Fishman joined him) and then his home. Eventually, Feldman became too sick to work and Fishman took over the business in the late 1980s.

"So then it became Jerry at George's," Fishman said. "I kept the name."

Just like his mentor, Fishman worked from his basement, where several clocks, parts and tools remain. As he looked around at his clocks, he said he's not sure where people will bring their broken machinery in the future.

"It's very difficult to find someone to fix clocks, I think there's only one person in town," Fishman said. "So I'm sending all my business to The Clockery in Norwalk, they do good work."

Fixing clocks can be tedious and expensive. Fishman said sometimes he tells his customers not to bother fixing a clock, unless it's valuable. For instance, he said Cartier clocks are too costly to repair.

Walking around the workroom, Fishman pointed out some of his favorite pieces, including a unique gold clock with a cherub holding a palette. He said it was made in Ansonia.

"All the clocks were made in Connecticut," he noted.

Fishman was referring to the state's rich history in clock making, which included factories in several towns, such as Bristol, Plymouth, Thomaston, Waterbury and Bridgeport. Thomaston got its name from popular clockmaker Seth Thomas.

Fishman scrolled through one of his books on the history of clocks and said he has visited the American Clock & Watch Museum in Bristol.

Early on, the clocks and watches made in Europe and the American colonies were hand-crafted, with each part made and fitted separately.

Innovation occurred over the next century, and by the late 1800s the clock-making industry helped establish Connecticut as one of the nation's leading industrial areas. A century later, the clock- and watch-making industry all but vanished from the state.

Among his collection, Fishman has clocks made by Sunbeam, Bulova, Cornwall, Plymouth, Linden, Stuart Austin, Howard Miller, Seth Thomas, Grunbe, Seiko, Tiffany, Cartier and Elgin.

"I have one of every clockmaker in Connecticut," he said.

These days, Fishman said he sees mostly Quartz clocks that are made in Michigan.

"They don't make the clocks, they assemble the clocks," he said. "They're all made in Germany."

Some of Fishman's other clocks include an anniversary clock, which only has to be wound once a year, and a rare cuckoo clock with a deer mounted on it. He pushed the hand to 7 and watched a little bird come out and the acorn weights drop down.

"The only bad thing about this clock is, you have to wind it every day," he said.

The cuckoo clock reminded him of a time he repaired one for Victor Borge, the famed Danish comedian and pianist who lived in Greenwich until his death in 2000. Fishman said he returned the clock in one day, but Borge wasn't too happy about it.

When the pianist heard the clock's signature noise, he ran into the room, saying he didn't want it to chime because he had to play piano.

"What did he have the clock for?" Fishman wondered.

Fishman said working in the clock repair business fit nicely with other things he enjoys doing, such as woodworking and ceramics.

 

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