Swiss Time, a watch shop that had done business on Exchange Street since 1994, has closed. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

They say there’s a time for everything, and for family-owned Swiss Time on Exchange Street, the bell has tolled.

The store was a fixture in Portland’s Old Port for more than a quarter-century, selling and repairing watches and clocks. The business dates back even further, to 1977. But a tick-tocking progression of challenges, including the pandemic and a new retail landscape, has forced the shop to close its doors for the last time.

The death in 2017 of Swiss Time’s founder, Claude Guyot, was probably the first blow, said daughter Stephany Guyot, who ran the store with her brother, Kristopher Guyot, and her mother, Jill Guyot.

Then came the loss of master watchmakers who worked at the store – one to another job, and one to retirement. Finding the parts necessary to repair vintage watches became more difficult. Online sales were growing more popular, even for expensive timepieces. All of it hurt business.

In addition, with more people relying on omnipresent smartphones to check the time, the market for watches switched to inexpensive, easily replaced products, Stephany Guyot said. Swiss Time specialized in high-end timepieces.

“More and more watches today are made so cheaply, people can buy a new watch for the mere price of a battery replacement,” she said.


Guyot said it became clear at the beginning of 2022 that it was probably time to close the store, but she met with her family members and employees to discuss possible alternatives. By summer, she said, none had emerged. So the decision was made to try to sell out the inventory by the end of the year and close at Christmas.

The inventory did sell out, she said, with the exception of a few vintage pieces that will go to an auction.


Jill and Claude Guyot moved to Maine in the early 1970s and set up their shop on the upper floor of a High Street building near the State Theatre. Stephany Guyot said her parents concentrated on trade work – watch repairs for retailers who sold the timepieces. Then the couple got a chance to move to a space on the ground floor and drummed up retail business of their own. The shop moved to the Old Port in 1994.

Stephany Guyot said she and her parents focused on creating a welcoming atmosphere without high-pressure sales tactics.

“We wanted a place where everyone felt comfortable coming in, whether it was someone looking for a $10 watch or a $50,000 Rolex,” she said. “We just loved watches and loved to talk about watches.”


That approach worked well. The business grew and the shop was soon a familiar destination on Exchange Street, well-known for a distinctive “pocket watch” sign. But in 2000, Claude Guyot was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He eventually received an implanted medical device to help stop tremors caused by the disease, his daughter said. But in 2016, he was found to have ALS and died the next year.

The market for timepieces at that point was changing. Stephany Guyot noticed more people coming in to discuss and compare watches, and then leaving without making a purchase. She assumed they went online and found the watches at cheaper prices. Meanwhile, her suppliers set strict requirements to keep the store’s prices high and to maintain an air of exclusivity.

“We were not supposed to even list merchandise on discount on our website,” she said.

In 2020, the pandemic hit and turned the nature of their business upside down.

The Swiss Time windows were empty but on Thursday the familiar timepiece sign still hung over the sidewalk on Exchange Street. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The store, designed for leisurely browsing and face-to-face interaction, was forced to shut down for several months. “It was hard to come back from that,” Guyot said.

Even simple repairs became a challenge, she said. Watches had to be sanitized before repairers could even start what was inherently up-close, hands-on work.


“Just (changing) a battery was taking five days,” she said.

The store began to lose the personal connection that drew many people through the door in the first place.


Pat and Bob Amidon, and their daughter Phoebe Larsson, now of Vail, Colorado, were regular customers of Swiss Time for much of its time in business.

Pat Amidon said their connection with the shop began with a simple repair for one of her husband’s watches and grew into “our go-to place when we wanted to give someone a special gift.”

For Larsson, it began when her parents gave her a Swatch watch, a cheap, colorful watch that was popular in the early 1980s. It was a Paris-themed watch that was her graduation gift – along with a trip to Europe.


“I still have it and I have a Rolex from there,” she said. The latter was a gift from her father-in-law, who also was a frequent customer. Larsson said that, like her mother, she found that the store was one of the first places she would turn to when she needed to buy a special gift for someone.

“It has been part of our monumental gifts,” she said.

Her father, Bob Amidon, recognizes that changes in how people track minutes and hours has taken a toll on stores like Swiss Time.

The distinctive sign at Swiss Time on Exchange Street in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“It’s unfortunate that mechanical watches are not as popular (as battery-operated models),” he said. “And everybody has an iPhone.”

And the neighborhood where Swiss Time was located is changing as well.

After the redevelopment of the Old Port in the 1970s and early 1980s, Exchange Street was once populated exclusively by local merchants. Now chain stores, like Madewell, are moving in – and some, like Starbucks, are moving out. There’s even some churn among other local businesses, such as Dobra Tea, which recently closed its teahouse directly across Exchange Street from Swiss Time. (Dobra still does business online.)


Guyot said the run-up to Swiss Time’s closing was bittersweet.

“Our loyal customer base came in to support us,” she said. She said a woman brought in more than two dozen watches to get the batteries changed so she wouldn’t have to search for a new place to have that done for a while.

There’s also been a steady stream of gratitude and fond wishes shared on social media.

“We got an outpouring of support,” Guyot said. “It was a wonderful way to end.”

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