Poverty is what made Alicia Avila an expert quilter. Avila grew up in a family of migrant workers who traveled regularly between Texas and Wisconsin and couldn’t afford new bed coverings. So Avila’s grandmother would save and sew remnants of cloth to make quilts, and Avila would mimic her, starting first by piecing scraps of paper together and then graduating to real stitches in time.
Today, she carries on that tradition as an artist who has created and exhibited quilts, conducted classes and judged exhibitions. Her proudest moment was a recent quilt exhibition she had in the south Texas town where her grandmother was buried. To date, Avila has created 500 quilts, yet true to her family’s thrifty tradition, she also repairs older quilts. That makes her a rarity in this or any town: an expert who can create the best yet will take the time to restore your family heirloom.
These were the kind of people we searched for in our quest for the best repair people in town. From bicycles to typewriters, from clocks to cameras to crystal, we all have broken beloved items that we can’t bear to throw away and wonder if there is a little shop or a skilled specialist who can bring them back to life.
So we combed through phone listings and talked to experts. We asked how long the repair person has done repairs and how he/she was trained. We learned who uses their services and what they alone can do that others can’t. We found many interesting and colorful artisans eager to answer our questions, but we narrowed our list to those we consider the very best at reclaiming your personal treasures.
Lamps and Lighting
Hundreds of chandeliers hang from the ceiling of Brass Light Gallery, all rescued from older houses in various states of disrepair. Brass Light does restoration work and can manufacture fixtures. The shop can copy virtually any metal fixture or part of a fixture, sometimes creating an entirely new fixture working from an old photograph. Its specialists are careful not to remove the old patina from the fixture unless you request it. They can do plating in 17 finishes and rewire all repaired lamps and chandeliers to meet modern codes. 131 S. First St., 271-8300;www.brasslight.com
A bit farther south, quaint old Goldmann’s Department Store still has an electrician who can rewire that old lamp for you. “At one time, we used to fix everything,” from toasters to shoes, says Goldmann’s owner, Milt Pivar. Now they only do electrical work on lamps and fixtures. But Goldmann’s is about service, says Pivar, and the store will order parts for just about anything a customer may need. 930 W. Mitchell St., 645-9100; www.goldmanns.com.
For repair or replacement of lampshades, see Ida Pokorny at the Treasure House. Pokorny recently completed work at the George Eastman mansion in Rochester, New York. She cleans the metal frames, replaces fabric and trims to match the original and matches the old electrical cords with new wiring. 5209 W. North Ave., 444-1233.
To care for your cutlery, use the experts upon which Jewel-Osco and Pick ’n Save rely. Cozzini Brothers rents knives to restaurants and grocery stores and replaces them periodically with sharpened ones. Cozzini caters mostly to businesses, so the single customer must make an appointment. But regional manager Romero Buggs says they can sharpen knives in about 15 minutes for you. Even moderately priced knives are worth getting professionally sharpened, he notes. N57 W13636 Carmen Ave., Menomonee Falls, 262-781-2277; www.cozzini.com.
On the South Side, Vince Hanoski’s grandfather started Ben’s Cycle on Lincoln Avenue in 1928. Ben’s looks like a modest shop in an equally modest neighborhood, but don’t be fooled. Its parts department is huge. A staff of six is allocated strictly to Internet sales around the world. The shop repairs and sells new bikes. Buying from a good bike shop may cost a little more, Hanoski says, but bike assembly requires a number of fine adjustments that only a quality shop can provide. 1018 W. Lincoln Ave., 384-2236.
On the East Side, you’ll find another great store and some equally solid advice. The Bikesmiths’ Kirk and Scott Noll, along with two other employees, have nearly 100 years of experience repairing bikes. Kirk cautions that regular riders in this climate need to overhaul their bike every spring. Road salt can reap havoc. 2865 N. Murray Ave., 332-1330.
The phone book lists plenty of people who fix broken windows, but what if that window is stained glass? Les’s Glass Service specializes in leaded, carved, beveled and painted glass. Owner Les Jankowski and the director of the art glass department, George Jacobsen, both got their starts with Conrad Schmitt Studios, Milwaukee’s largest ecclesiastical glass studio. Between them, they have more than 60 years of experience. 10111 W. Forest Home Ave., Hales Corners, 529-1114; www.lesglassservice.com.
Crystal and Glass
At 81, Ned Guyette is still the master of glass repair at The Finishing Touch and the only Wisconsinite on Lladró’s online list of recommended restorers. He started making crystal glass bells 30 years ago. When George Watts displayed one Guyette bell at his tea shop, the store kept getting inquiries from customers who wanted to purchase it.
Guyette’s hobby became a business when he retired as executive director of the Greater Milwaukee Chapter of the American Red Cross in 1984. He can grind and buff out many chips and even fuse broken bases onto glass pieces. Guyette says good glassware does not belong in automatic dishwashers, especially if you use a water softener. The chemicals and agitation eat away at the glass and cloud the surface. Guyette also recommends placing a towel in the bottom of the sink when hand washing to prevent chipping and breakage.
Guyette closes his shop for a few months in winter. When will he totally retire? He says his wife won’t let him. 5128 W. Center St., 444-4557.
Is that fancy digital camera with more doodads than a NASA spaceship giving you trouble? Drop it off at Camera Repair Service in Pewaukee (2130 W. Silvernail Rd., 262-547-7277) or at its West Allis-based drop-off site at Art’s Camera Plus (11037 W. Oklahoma Ave.; 543-0700, www.artscameras.com). Besides offering good repairs, Camera Repair Service controls costs by cutting shipping to out-of-state service centers and avoiding standardized fixed fees.
China Doll Inc. will repair virtually any doll, from Barbie to American Girl to porcelain antiques. Owner Cynthia Guilette is an international instructor with the Doll Artisan Guild and has competed in doll competitions, judged shows and taught doll-making classes all over the world. Guilette restrings the rubber bands or string used to hold some dolls together, makes movable eyes, pours porcelain molds for missing arms and legs and even does beadwork for the clothing. 655 N. Brookfield Rd., Brookfield, 262-787-1921.
Locally, Alicia Avila’s quilts have been exhibited at the United Community Center and The Cutting Table, a Bay View fabric store. Avila is one of the few quilters who will restore older quilts. Sometimes people throw their quilts in the washing machine, and the quilts come to Avila in shreds, beyond repair. Her advice: Hand-wash them, but never hang your quilts in bright sun to dry; it will only fade the fabric. 755 E. Lincoln Ave., 481-6365
The clocks are ticking, but in many ways, time stands still as Timothy Grabenhofer restores classics that may be more than 100 years old. Grabenhofer began with a four-year apprenticeship in Chicago and later studied in England before opening his own clock repair shop in Cedarburg in the 1980s.
Modern quartz and atomic clocks keep better time than clocks of old, concedes Grabenhofer. And even after they are fixed, older clocks can require adjustments at home by the owner because of slight variations in humidity or altitude. But timepieces of old have a history and beauty that makes them, well, timeless. Gruhr Ltd., 262-375-3171.
Not so many years ago, you could set the idle of a cycle just by listening to the engine. But today’s motorcycles demand sophisticated diagnostic equipment usually found only at dealerships. So where does one take older bikes?
The Shop runs counter to the Milwaukee love affair with Harleys. It works on every bike except Harley and will keep older bikes running well, especially for those on a tight budget. 2631 S. Greeley St., 276-6686.
The dean of older cycles is Charlie Schroepfer of Competition Cycle. Competitors say Schroepfer can weld just about anything, and they often outsource more difficult aluminum welding jobs to him. 5081 N. 124th St., Butler, 262-373-1122.
For vintage Harleys going back to the 1930s, see Wisconsin Harley-Davidson in Oconomowoc, 1280 Blue Ribbon Dr., 262-569-8500; www.wishd.com.
Other vintage bike owners should head to Motor West, which specializes in older bikes such as Puch and BMW. 3211 W. Senator Ave., 875-8787.
Electric Shavers and Typewriters
When I stopped at Kubichek Office-Products with an old typewriter that needed fixing, John Kubichek identified the brand even before he took the cover off. “That’s a Royal X,” he said of this machine first introduced in 1914. “That’s the first typewriter I ever worked on.”
Kubichek’s father, Frank, started repairing Remington typewriters in 1934. In the 1950s, Remington gave suppliers a new electric shaver for each typewriter they sold. Frank sold the shavers, but soon customers started bringing them in for repair. Frank Kubichek was now in the electric shaver repair business. Today, son John carries on the tradition while also selling office equipment.
Repairing electric shavers is not a lucrative business, but it’s a tidy trade: Kubi-chek must dedicate only a corner of his store to shavers. One customer brought in a shaver for repair and was so impressed with the service that he returned to purchase thousands of dollars worth of office equipment.
Today, Kubichek sells and services copy and fax machines, printers and typewriters. And every year, they fix more than 3,000 electric shavers of various brands. 12530 W. Burleigh Rd., Brookfield, 262-754-0700.
Art restoration can be controversial. Art conservators are passionate in their varying viewpoints on the techniques, skills and approach to use in restoration work. A good place to start is the Web site of The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (www.aic.stanford.edu). The AIC has high standards for membership, and this site is conveniently searchable by categories and geographic area. Still, not all excellent art conservators are AIC members, and it pays to ask plenty of questions. Our choices by category:
Paintings and Murals
The most knowledgeable expert in this category is based in Madison. Anton “Tony” Rajer holds a master’s degree from Harvard, with additional studies from universities in London, Rome and the Sorbonne in Paris. He has taught art conservation here and abroad. He has also restored paintings around the world and is author of several art books. Recently he completed work on the Depression-era murals at Wauwatosa East High School. 608-249-7042.
Paintings and Tapestries
Barbara Aho has taught art at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is an artist in her own right. Although she restores mostly paintings and sculpture, she is one of the few restorers who will tackle tapestries by matching fabrics and threads. Phoenix Art Conservation, 332-5284.
August Edward Peter has restored projects at sites such as Ten Chimneys and can work in just about any medium: wood, plaster, marble, glass and metal. Often a piece just has sentimental value to the customers; in such cases, Peter tries to keep costs to a minimum. The biggest expense for such works, he says, is removing Elmer’s Glue from botched repair attempts. Creative Process Artistic Services, 4165 S. Nicolson Ave., St. Francis, 489-1745; www.creativeprocesswi.com.
Paper Drawings and Documents
Doug Stone has taken on tough cases, like the family whose only record of their relative’s journey to America was a worn baptismal certificate written in German. It had insects, spider webs, acidity problems, resin damage, water stains and mold. Stone had to place the document in a chamber to kill off the insects, flush out the acidity and resins and attach a backing to reinforce the document. Of course, even if your document is pest-free, Stone can help. Fulkerstone Fine Arts Conservation LLC, 2920 S. Wentworth Ave., 744-6333.
Jewelry and Watches
At one time, nearly every jewelry store had a watchmaker. Digital watches drastically cut that need, but Dick Trissel, watchmaker at Shallow Jewelers since 1969, says digital watches still need regular service. A manufacturer may suggest replacing a battery every four years, but Trissel has discovered that many batteries start leaking after two years, which destroys the watch.
And when you bring in your watch, the Shallow staff will ask to see your diamond ring. Michael Shallow, one of the company’s four goldsmiths, warns that many people never have their rings inspected and won’t know if their diamond is ready to fall out of its setting. “I have saved some 30 people this year from losing their diamonds,” Shallow says. Shallow Jewelers is a family business going back five generations. 8919 W. Greenfield Ave., West -Allis, 476-1553.
Some 40 years ago, Richard DiCastri’s brother asked him if he could try to fix a large music box that he and his wife had received as a wedding gift. Richard, who was the only real mechanical guy in the family, was able to fix it. He soon found himself buying more broken music boxes, fixing them and reselling them for a profit. Today, based in Kenosha, he does work for major museums and auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s and is one of the few craftsmen in the world who can totally rebuild an existing music box. 262-657-1279.
About the only thing drums, horns and violins have in common is that they all make musical sounds. Our advice: Skip establishments that claim to fix anything and find the masters of your particular instrument. Even if you have an inexpensive instrument, specialized experts shouldn’t scare you away. These shops know the grade-school student today might be their cherished professional tomorrow. But call ahead – many instrument repair shops see customers by appointment only.
Strings: Classical Strings, 311 N. -Plankinton Ave., 271-7190.
Drums: Faust Music, 2204 S. -Kinnickinnic Ave., 744-1112.
Horns and Woodwinds: Melk Music, 8625 W. Adler St., 771-0900.
Pianos: Michael Mihopulos Piano -Tuning, 625 E. Laverne Dr., 768-9576.
Guitars: Rauen Guitars, 2473 N. Weil St., 265-4343.
Frayed edges, holes, rotted areas, fading and pet accidents are all seen by the restoration experts of Shabahang Persian Carpets. Sometimes they must replace large sections of the rug by interweaving new sections and matching the color, style and texture of the original weave.
“We don’t restore rugs by a single standard,” says Mehran Iravani, Shabahang’s president. “If you have a rug from a remote village in Iran, you have to apply that standard from that village.” Shabahang has two master restoration carpet specialists in Milwaukee – one trained in Iran, the other in Pakistan.
Iravani tells people to purchase quality rugs. He recommends regularly vacuuming but not steam cleaning because it removes the natural moisture in the wool. When his staff cleans rugs, they beat them from the back side and wash them with a special shampoo for sheep wool. Finally, the rugs are rinsed, brushed and dried at room temperature. 223 E. Silver Spring Dr., Whitefish Bay, 332-0303;www.shabahangcarpets.com.
“We have become father confessors,” Bob Pecher says of B & L Photo Lab customers who bring in photographs of dearly departed relatives. People believe little can be done with a torn photograph. But Pecher and his wife, Lauren, are able to recreate the missing pieces and bring the image back to life. “I have customers going out the door crying because they are so happy,” he says.
One of their first projects when they started in 1982 was a damaged photograph of a young black man with nearly half of the face and shoulder missing. The Pechers took a wallet-sized photo of the same image, flipped the negative and used it to create the missing pieces, with additional air-brushing to finish the print.
Today, such work would most likely be done through computer imaging, but the Pechers have reached back to 1870s technology, the technology that first created photos. Their lab is one of the few in the nation to still make silver gelatin fiber archival paper prints, an expensive process that produces pictures that can last more than 125 years.
“You are bringing me a piece of history from your family,” says Pecher. “This print is going to be in your family for generations.” 3486 N. Oakland Ave., 964-6626.
Eleven years ago, Orel Rooney took a class from Milwaukee doll-maker Bill Zito, who immediately saw her talent with porcelain. Today, working from her home, she repairs china dolls, Tiffany glass, Hummel figures and other porcelains for shops and private individuals from across the country. Restore and Repair Your Collectables, W281 N2290 Beech Circle, Pewaukee, 262-691-0603.
The major problem with small engines in the Milwaukee area is reformulated gas, which begins to break down in fewer than two months. Even adding stabilizers to gas has a marginal effect. Instead, you must drain the tank of your lawnmower or snow blower at the end of the season. Or you can get it done by experts. If you need any repairs on your chainsaw, lawnmower or other small engine, we can recommend two family businesses that have been in operation for more than 50 years:
National Ace Hardware, 1303 N. Fourth St., 274-3810.
Bill’s Power Center, 13885 W. Capitol Dr., Brookfield, 262-781-6400.
Dan Nauman’s restoration work often matches that of Cyril Colnik, the famous Austrian-born Milwaukee blacksmith. Nauman’s reproductions can be seen at the Pabst Mansion and Villa Terrace. Nauman is on the board of directors of the Artist Blacksmith Association of North America and has taught workshops across the country. In additional to original and restoration artwork, he fashions and repairs such everyday objects as hooks, latches, hinges and fireplace pokers. You’ll find him at The Bighorn Forge, N70 W6340 Bridge Rd., Cedarburg, 262-375-2006;www.bighornforge.com.
Peter Gerasopoulos learned the cobbler business from his father back in Greece. But when he opened his first shop in the Loomis Center more than 40 years ago, business was slow. His landlords were worried they might lose a good tenant, so without asking his permission, they placed a coupon in the paper for 25 cents off replacement heels from his shop. The next day, customers were lined up at the front door. He didn’t recognize the ad but honored it and worked through the weekend just to handle the traffic. It hasn’t slowed down since.
Gerasopoulos’ customers have included local politicians and the Milwaukee Ballet Company, both known for fancy footwork. He accepts only cash or checks. If a customer has forgotten their pocket money, Gerasopoulos has been known to tell people to mail him a check. In all his years at shoe repair, he lost only $6.80 to a bad check.
Gerasopoulos sees the cobbler business as a dying trade. Most people buy less expensive shoes and then toss them when they wear out. Cobbler Shoe Service, 827 W. Oklahoma Ave., 747-1154.
But Allen-Edmonds claims a good pair of shoes is more cost-effective and easier on your feet than several pairs of less expensive brands. Allen-Edmonds remanufactures quality shoes in the Milwaukee area, not only their brand but several others as well. Customers can take their worn shoes to any Allen-Edmonds store or call them for a postage-free box and get repairs by mail. Allen-Edmonds, 877-495-5564; www.allenedmonds.com.
Small Appliances, Audio and TVs
The days of fixing small appliances are fading fast. As technology gets better and cheaper, people just chuck that broken coffee pot or crock pot for new ones. But if you like familiarity and your appliance is larger than a microwave oven, drop in at Mister TV.
Owner Mark Van Echteren holds several repair contracts with local department and electronic stores for televisions and electronic equipment, but his company still has a healthy walk-in business. He’s seen a resurgence in customers needing repairs with the trend for thousand-dollar wide-screen projection TVs, which are more likely to need repairs than that old reliable 36-incher. There’s also an increasing demand for fixing audio equipment, as televisions, stereos and DVD players blend together into home theaters. But don’t bother fixing the newer VCRs; only the older ones (at least six years old) might be worth the investment. 11212 W. Greenfield Ave., 479-9982.
Jim Mullaly was only 20 when he began doing touch-up work for Kenwood TV. That was in the 1960s, when television cabinets were fine pieces of furniture. He opened his own shop, Mullaly Furniture Finishing and Repair Service Inc., in 1972.
Unlike many refinishers who strip by dipping the wood into water-based baths, Mullaly is more likely to work with the existing finish, using several chemicals to minimize damage to the furniture. But sometimes a complete redoing of the piece is needed, he notes. 5226 W. Donges Bay Rd., Mequon, 262-242-2550.
Sports and Protective Gear: On September 11, 2001, Andy Oliver was a financial analyst working one block from the twin towers in New York’s financial district. He lost friends and gained haunting memories. Less than a year later, he and his wife moved back to Milwaukee, partly to be with family. “It was familiar,” says Oliver. “It was safe.”
But Oliver also knew he wanted to do something more fulfilling than watch financial numbers race across a computer screen. He wanted to help firefighters.
Firefighters have a lower life expectancy, often related to the exposure to smoke and toxins contaminating their gear. Today, Gear Wash is the only Wisconsin company cleaning and repairing personal protective equipment used by firefighters and emergency personnel. Not only does such cleaning protect the wearer, it also extends the life of the equipment.
Gear Wash has expanded its business to include repairing tents, backpacks and sail covers. Their repair work includes hockey gear and skate boots for local high schools, the Badger and Admiral hockey teams and just common folk who need their gear cleaned or repaired. 657 S. 72nd St., 476-4327; www.gearwash.com.
Athletic Equipment: Thomas Sanicola has been fixing sports equipment for nearly 50 years and still puts in 14-hour days. Athletic Equipment Repair Corporation is the largest sports equipment maintenance company in Wisconsin, servicing individual owners and high school, college and even professional teams.
Athletic Equipment Repair is one of few companies nationally that holds certification for helmet repairs. Football helmets are inspected, repaired, washed and painted in assembly-like fashion. 530 S. Second St., 271-2837.
Rods and Reels: When Louis Krueger walked into Easterling’s Reel & Rod Repair some 30 years ago, he remembers finding then-owner “Lefty” Easterling depressed because his two repairmen had just quit to start their own business.
Lefty asked Krueger if he would watch the store for a few minutes while he got something to eat. Krueger agreed, but soon customers were coming in with tickets to retrieve their reels and rods. Krueger, who knew nothing about the store’s operation, delayed the customers by telling them fish stories. Twenty minutes grew into 45, and one customer finally asked Krueger if he even worked there. Not sure how to answer, he simply stated, “I just started.”
When Lefty finally returned, he asked Krueger to lend a hand. Krueger worked on reels that day until 10:30 p.m., “catching hell” from his wife when he returned home. Today, Louis Krueger owns Easterling’s and fixes reels and Coleman stoves and lanterns. You’ll get excellent service and might even hear a fish story or two. 5700 W. National Ave., 259-3907.
When the dog attacks an upholstered chair and rips the fabric, call Larry Paul. He makes house calls. With 40 years of experience, he has a pretty good idea whether the upholstery should be repaired or replaced. Paul will take fabric from the back or the underside of a cushion and use the material to replace the damaged area. For newer furniture, he might be able to get the exact fabric from the manufacturer. Often Paul finds out that the chair he just fixed is used by only one individual – the dog that did the damage. In-Home Upholstery Repair Service, Glendale, 352-7352.
Silver and Fine Metals
Michael and Dennis Wied operate the silversmith shop their father purchased from Leo Werner’s family in the 1950s. The brothers will remove old silver plating and apply a new plating coat. They repair silver flatware, bowls and lighting fixtures, and they also work on brass, copper and pewter.
Michael tells people to look for manufacturing markings on the back of pieces. Sometimes people will try to pass off silver as more expensive European silver, but the markings will show Asian origins.
So what does a silver expert like Michael collect? Brass fire extinguishers. A. Werner Silversmiths, 1241 N. Water St., 276-0053.
Gain a little weight? Or – lucky you – lose some? You’ll need to alter that suit before the next wedding. We asked men’s clothiers for their favorite tailor shops, and although this isn’t a complete list, these are some good places to begin:
Alex’s Tailoring, 1810 E. Capital Dr., Shorewood, 332-6200.
Mirjana’s Tailoring, 7509 W. Oklahoma Ave., 541-5554.
Ted’s Tailor Shop, 13450 W. Watertown Plank Rd., Elm Grove, 262-641-5182.
Delanie Seamon has designed and sewn wedding dresses that cost $200 to $2,000, but she’s willing to take on the simplest repairs or alterations. That wonderful outfit you’ve had for years, if of good quality, is worth updating for only a fraction of the cost of new clothing. Delanie Designs, 5630 N. Lake Dr., 962-9355.
Terrence Falk is a Milwaukee freelance writer.