No clock shall die before its time

Since 1973, Charles Sink has repaired old watches and clocks at the Ellicott City shop

Business Profile Antique Clock and Watch Shop

September 27, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Though several ticking clocks continually mark the minutes and chime the hours at the Antique Clock and Watch Shop in Ellicott City, this crowded, parts-strewn shop seems like a place that time has forgotten.

Owner Charles Sink has no computers in the space he shares with his English Lab, Princess. He doesn't have a cash register and accepts only cash for his work.

But he offers customers old-fashioned attention to detail and a skill set that is as anachronistic as rotary telephones and rabbit ears on televisions - the ability to repair old-fashioned clocks and watches, the ones that rely on balance wheels and pendulums, not batteries.

"I work on what is known as the mechanical templates," he said.

Sink sometimes has to make his own parts, he said. And, if necessary, he will make the tools that make the parts. It's not like you can run to the hardware store and get a winding stem for an 80-year-old watch, he said.

Most of the clocks and watches that Sink repairs date back 50 years, at least.

After he bought the business in 1984, he marked his first job with ticket No. 1. He's now up to No. 9,545.

Restoration of a grandfather clock might start at $225, but every project is different, he said. He has at least one clock that he worked on for a year.

"I spent days and days making the parts," said Sink, who wears a headset with magnifying lenses and smokes continuously as he talks.

Erin Van Bavel, the group sales and marketing manager for Howard County Tourism, said Sink's store is the kind of business that attracts visitors.

"Businesses like his that are small and have been there forever really add to the charm of the area," said Van Bavel. "It's not a huge store, it's a specialty shop."

Sink, 68, was born in Buchanan, Va., with a disability that requires him to use crutches to walk. He chose his career partly because he can do it sitting down, he said. He studied horology, or clockmaking, for 8 1/2 years, he said, first at a vocational school and then with the National School of Watchmaking, which is no longer in existence.

For many years, Sink worked for the federal government. He began working in the clock shop in 1973 and took ownership 11 years later. The store occupied two previous Main Street locations before settling in its current location about nine years ago, he said.

For a long time, Sink would work at the shop from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., then travel to Washington to work from 4 p.m. to midnight. He did that for 26 years, until he retired from his government job 11 years ago.

Now, he works in the shop seven days a week, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. He calls Princess his manager, and says all complaints should be directed to her.

"I take care of her, she takes care of me," he says of his pet.

As he talks, Sink works on a mantel clock from the now-defunct Krober clock company of New York, with a date of 1849 on it. The clock has a glass pane with gold leaf, and the inner workings - the face, pendulum and dial - are silver. The clock isn't running, but Sink is confident it will work once he is finished with it. He estimates that he will spend 12 to 15 hours on it.

Sink purchased the clock at an estate sale and said he has a customer for it. But he won't say how much he bought it for, how much he will sell it for, or anything about the buyer. "I don't divulge anything," he said, squinting through his cigarette smoke.

Most of the people who purchase mechanical clocks are dealers, he said. Most people don't want to deal with them because they need to be wound, and because they are not as accurate as modern clocks and watches.

Still, he said, "there will always be people who have enough interest to keep it going."

Sink, it turns out, wouldn't be a good customer for his own business.

He hasn't worn a watch in 40 years, he said, and the only clocks in his house are on his television and videocassette recorder.

The Antique Clock and Watch Shop is at 8435 Main St., Ellicott City. 410-465-6226.

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