Back in 1986, George Lynch was looking for work when his friend, Bill Wagner, offered him a job at his Menlo Vacuum & Fix It shop in Menlo Park. Intrigued by all things mechanical, George decided to try his hand at it, admittedly thinking, “I’ll just do it for a little while. I probably won’t be here for long.”
That was 28 years ago, and yep, George remains as busy as ever selling vacuums and fixing almost anything with a battery or cord. The only difference is that he’s now the owner of Menlo Vacuum & Fix It, and he has fully embraced the idea that he’s here to stay. “There’s always something new and interesting or different to do every day,” he says. “I was never really fond of the office atmosphere, so this was a good fit for me.”
George says the store actually dates back to the early 1960s. “The Camerons were the original owners back when it was where the Smoke Shop was near the BBC, ” he explains.
In 1963, the shop was relocated to its current location, 1179 El Camino Real. The space is tight — 980 square feet — and George makes every nook and cranny, corner and bit of floor space count. Bins, boxes and shelves are packed, stacked and even overflowing — filled with cords, fans, handles and wheels, for countless styles and makes. “It’s very chaotic, but it’s organized. If you ask me where a belt is for anything, I can go right to it,” George says.
George estimates that he and his tinkering sidekick, store manager Rob Ballweber, fix between five to 10 vacuums a day. “If you can imagine it, I’ve taken it out of a vacuum,” he says, recalling extractions of underwear, glass, jewelry, food and even bullets. “No animal parts or human parts,” he thankfully acknowledges.
Beyond the store’s bread and butter vacuum business, they also work on “toasters, blenders, mixers, microwaves, lamps, small electronics, stereos, coffee makers, touch switches, small medical equipment, really anything with a plug on it, just about,” George says. On this particular day, he’s working on a Braun electric razor, removing two old nickel metal hydride batteries from an outdated circuit board and soldering on new ones. “I get a little thrill when I figure out what’s wrong and I fix it. They’re like little puzzles or Sudoku’s. It’s always a little bit of a challenge.”
Although George is on a personal mission to keep still-useful stuff out of landfills, he offers counsel on when it’s appropriate to toss: “I usually tell people if it costs more than half the value of the unit to fix, it’s probably not worth it, unless there’s some sentimental value or it intrinsically can’t be replaced.”
It’s the sentimental stuff that sticks in his memories most — the family heirloom lamp, a played out record player, even a pepper mill, given as an anniversary gift. When that which is broken is switching, spinning or grinding again, the gratitude expressed is both moving and sincere. “I appreciate it when they appreciate it. We’re interested in helping the community as much as possible by either selling them good quality products or fixing the products they love and want to keep,” he says.
Photo by Irene Searles