Time running out for clock shop Horology: Roy's Never Stop, with 52 years of history, is winding up its 17-year stay on Hampstead's Main Street, but the shop will keep going at another location.

January 25, 1998|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

At Roy's Never Stop Clock Shop in Hampstead, clocks are more than mere timekeepers. For owner Steve Ashe, every clock is a story about our history, our lives.

And with more than 500 clocks spanning two centuries in his Carroll County store, there are many stories to tell. Roy's has stately grandfather clocks, whimsical cuckoo clocks, ornate Victorian-era timepieces and nostalgic Coca-Cola clocks. The ticks, chimes, buzzes and gongs combine to create a strangely soothing background music in the cluttered shop.

"Any old clock must have a history behind it," Ashe said. "That's the fascinating part, to try to unearth the history. Who made them? Who owned them?"

After 17 years in Hampstead, the future of Ashe's 52-year-old landmark clock sales and repair shop is uncertain.

The owner of the turn-of-the-century building that houses the business plans to sell it. So Ashe is looking for another site for the shop, which was started in 1945 by his father, Roy, out of his Baltimore County home. Roy Ashe, 81, lives in Florida.

"There's been somewhat of a panic because we've been sort of an institution here for the past two decades," said Ashe, 55, who hopes to stay in the Hampstead area.

He said he wants to preserve the loyal customer base he's established through longevity and personal service.

"It's the confidence you build from continuity," Ashe said. "We get calls from people who ask, 'Are you guys still fixing clocks?' Of course."

Over the years Roy's Never Stop Clock Shop has become the place to take old clocks, watches and music boxes that seem to have stopped for good. Ashe has even fixed the clockwork of an Amish fly fan used to keep flies off cooling pies.

"He took my grandfather's old pocket watch and brought it back to life," said Neil Ridgely, Hampstead town manager. "It's a nifty business. We'd like to see him stay here."

Ashe's father was an insurance salesman, but began repairing clocks as a hobby. After he retired from insurance in the early 1970s, he made clocks his full-time business and opened a clock sales and repair shop in Manchester. When the business outgrew that site, it moved to the Hampstead location on Main Street.

The red-brick building was the First National Bank of Hampstead until it failed during the Depression. It later became the Town Hall.

"We still have people trying to pay parking tickets here," Ashe said.

Most of Ashe's customers are people who own a cherished family heirloom that is in need of repair or appears to be.

"They'll call and say, 'Well, the clock has stopped,' and I'll say, 'Well, have you wound it?' " Ashe said. "People have lost that connection with things mechanical. You have to be involved with an old clock."

A stroll through the shop with Ashe reveals his dual passions -- history and horology.

He explains that a primitive-looking timepiece with wooden gears was made after the American Revolution, when clockmakers couldn't get brass plates from England.

Some "regulator" clocks hanging on the walls date from the 1840s, when train travel in the Baltimore area led to the synchronization of time in the region.

Before that, Ashe said, each town measured time by its own central timekeeper, usually a grandfather clock in the bank or the office of a lawyer or doctor.

"If Towson was keeping time 15 minutes different from Hampstead, nobody cared," he said.

Ashe describes the famous Connecticut clockmaker, Seth Thomas, as the "Henry Ford" of clocks because he made clocks affordable to working families.

By the mid-19th century, most people had plain oak clocks in their kitchens.

A black onyx mantel clock with gold filigree work might have been displayed in a Victorian parlor to indicate a family's prosperity and prominent social standing.

It was during World War I, Ashe relates, that a French pilot invented the wristwatch when he took a small pocket watch to the jeweler Cartier. He had a strap put on it because he needed both hands to operate his plane.

"If people can't learn a little piece of history about their clock, it has no value," Ashe said. "We try to make it educational and point out something they didn't know."

Ashe also sells long rifles and military items dating to the Civil War. And he makes house calls to repair grandfather clocks.

When he retires, Ashe plans to turn the business over to his niece, Kari Criswell, who has been working for him for 14 years. Criswell, 35, repairs clocks and handles the day-to-day management of the shop.

She said that she loves her work, but that sometimes people are surprised to find a woman in her position.

"Everybody that comes in here wants to talk to the clock man," she said.

Ashe doesn't have a moving date, but he's lowered prices to sell as much as possible before the move.

One clock that isn't for sale is a Victorian-period black china shelf clock, decorated with pink and yellow painted flowers. It has one claw foot and one cloven foot.

"There's some story behind that, and I've never been able to figure that out," said Ashe, who bought the clock 10 years ago. "I'm still hanging on to it. I want to find out how the story ends."

Pub Date: 1/25/98

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