In a time when many can’t imagine life without an iPod or MP3 player, and we eagerly await the newest, slightly better tablet, a nostalgic group of people dwell among us. With their cassette players, vinyl records and vintage sewing machines, they often prefer older technologies for their perceived superior qualities.
They love their ancient machines, but there’s one big disadvantage: Few people in Durango have the expertise to tinker with vintage equipment. But those who do, enjoy it for its mechanical nature.
Jim Herring owns Circuit Men, one of two shops in the area that specialize in the repair of older technologies. Most devices that Herring sees are various music players. He’s repaired turntables, cassette decks, tape recorders and stereo receivers among others.
“A lot of people don’t want all of this surround sound and all of those things,” he said. “Those fads sort of come and go.”
In response to a request on the Herald’s Facebook page for comments on old technology, several local residents reminisced about using their grandmother’s sewing machines, or a similar device they purchased secondhand. The general consensus was that older sewing machines, from the late ’40s and early ’50s, work better than newer ones for specific sewing projects.
One reason people still hold on to devices such as turntables is because they don’t have computers or the ability to digitize their old music, Herring said. Most of his customers are older.
“Not only has the equipment changed, so have the people,” he said, noting that most products of new technologies are made in China and other countries abroad. The newer components are smaller and soldered together at a high temperature, thus making them more difficult to fix, he explained. Generic parts are also difficult to find and almost never are sent to the United States, he said.
Also, younger generations tend to be more impatient when waiting for something to be repaired, he said.
At times, customers will bring in special vintage items that they have held on to for ages. A few months ago, he said, a customer brought in an amplifier from the ’70s that had never been worked on.
Fixing an 8-track
When asked about the oldest device he’s had to fix, he chuckled and said it was an 8-track music player.
John Leonard, owner of Durango Music and Electronics, also specializes in fixing older equipment.
Leonard frequently encounters vintage amplifiers and receivers from the ’60s and ’70s. Part of the reason customers can’t seem to let go is because the sound quality cannot be matched, he said.
At the time of the interview, he was working on a cassette deck from the ’80s. Leonard said the customer could have bought a used model for $20, but chose to repair the one he already owned. He is essentially spending more money to save the one to which he’s so attached.
While part of the reason people keep vintage technology is nostalgia, it’s mostly for sound quality and aesthetics.
“The older receivers and equipment look better,” Leonard said. “It’s like an old car; an old car looks better than a new car.”
The most fascinating repair he’s done was on a 1920s Victor-Victrola record player.
Both Leonard and Herring said that their business has gone down significantly through the years. With modern, harder-to-fix computerized technologies, they’ve needed to supplement income in other ways.
Though both shop owners have the ability to repair modern technology and sometimes do, sometimes it’s a software or manufacturing issue that needs to be addressed, in which Leonard and Herring are unable to assist.
In the ’80s and ’90s, Leonard’s business was primarily repairs, he said. He’s dropped 80 percent of that aspect of his business. Now, he said, 20 percent of his income is fixing older devices and the other 80 percent is outside installations.
Vinyl not quite obsolete
Turntables continue to be an industry standard for many disc jockeys.
Robert Stapleton, owner of the Southwest Sound music store on Main Avenue, has several customers who still purchase vinyl records, and they vary widely in age.
He sells to older people who grew up listening to records and frequently encounters younger people who also appreciate the sound quality of vinyl. Recently, he encountered a 12-year-old girl who bought a Björk and a Jeff Buckley LP (long-playing vinyl record)
“Age-wise, it’s people who appreciate the sound quality versus the convenience of the digital download,” he said.
The store, which has been in Durango since 1977, is thriving, said Stapleton, owner for the last 10 years.
“Vinyl is actually my biggest-selling format right now percentage-wise,” he said.
He also sells about two to three turntables a month. His store is equipped with digital turntables, which plug into computers for digitizing, and old-school ones for people who simply want to listen to their records, he said.
Contrary to what some may believe, modern vocalists, such as Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, and groups such as Arcade Fire and others, are not only releasing their albums on iTunes and CDs, but they also make their music available on vinyl, he said. Some records may even include either a digital download version or a CD.
With reoccurring trends, the antique and the vintage will be around to intrigue the young and the old.
“It’s as vintage as it gets, and it’s making a comeback,” Stapleton said.