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With no one left to run the shop, a St. Louis clockmaster calls it quits

Austin Huguelet, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Business News

Within a few years, he set up shop in a tiny space in downtown St. Louis a block from the Arch and began building a clientele. Every morning, he would bask in the smell of the food cooking at Tony's, the fine-dining institution, as he toiled. By early 1989, he'd decided he was ready for something bigger, opened the Brentwood location, and started hiring help.

He was not ready. "My first year was horrible," he said. "I tripled my expenses and my clientele was the same. I wanted to quit." But with a little leeway from his landlord and whole lot of hustle, he slowly began to eke out a future.

"I was ignorant to failure," he said. "I just hung in there because this is what I was good at."

A lot of jobs just needed a new set of batteries, but on any given day, someone could come through the door with a small fortune for him to work on. Good still remembers a guy who came in with his and hers Swiss-made watches. Declared value? $35,000, each. "I had to work to keep a straight face," Good recalled. "We jumped on those right away, we didn't want 'em lying around."

But he got more comfortable with time. Over the years, he got his hands on 200-year-old grandfather clocks with images of wooden warships and constellations, elaborate cuckoo clocks depicting idyllic scenes from German villages, and bigger projects, like the clock at St. Louis' Union Station.

He didn't much care for the tower clocks — too big, too hot, too much pigeon poop. But he took a special liking to Atmos clocks, a special line of Swiss timekeepers that can wind themselves with the energy from temperature changes in a room. Atmos lovers would send him theirs from all over the country to be worked on.

 

Some jobs demanded months or even a year of puzzling over problems, trying different solutions and then testing them to see if they would stick. Some days he wouldn't even want to look at a clock confounding him. But then he'd be driving or doing something else, inspiration would strike, and the work would almost become soothing. "I had a bottle of aspirin nearby, though," he said.

Raising chickens

He needed it for the business, too. A retail operation he set up to supplement the repair revenue collapsed with the onset of online shopping. Finding help got harder as fewer people took an interest in the trade. And spare parts got scarce as old clock companies went out of business and the ones left stopped selling him parts, opting, instead, to fix their clocks themselves.

But he managed to source some parts through others with accounts at the big companies, and the rest he bought from China or made in-house. He enlisted his son, Sam, to join the workshop out of high school in 2013. And while his retail business never really recovered, someone was always bringing in something to be fixed. That proved especially true during the pandemic as people spent more time at home with broken clocks. Pretty soon, 100 of them were coming through each month.

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