Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/10/2014 (2384 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Last week, this space featured a story on Bring Your Own Vinyl nights at the Garrick Hotel -- a weekly meet-up for record lovers who want to spin their favourite albums in public. Afterwards, we received a number of emails along the lines of, "Great idea but I want to play my old records at home, too. Do you know a place that fixes turntables?"
As a matter of fact, we do.
Bill Yaworski, 81, isn't afraid of needles.
In 1988, Yaworski got a phone call from a person associated with Eaton's. The fellow told Yaworski the Canadian retailer was getting out of the turntable business, now that compact disc players were rendering the components obsolete. He wanted to know if Yaworski, owner of Columbus Radio -- an electronics repair depot specializing in home stereo equipment, was interested in purchasing the chain's remaining supply of needles -- a reserve numbering in the thousands.
Yaworski had one question: "How much?"
"Everybody thought I was crazy; they told me I'd be stuck with 'em for the rest of my life," says Yaworski, who, in his white smock, pale-blue dress shirt and grey slacks, looks more like a physician than an electrician. "Now there's hardly a day that goes by when somebody doesn't come in here with an old record player, wondering if we have the right needle."
As if on cue, a 31-year-old, first-time customer named Michael walks through the doors at 1151 Sanford St., with a 1970s-era Philips turntable tucked under his arm. It used to belong to his grandmother, Michael explains, but he wants to get it going as a surprise for his mother, who told him it had been years since she sat down and listened to her LPs.
Yaworski hooks the unit up to a pair of test speakers and drops the needle on a Nana Mouskouri album he keeps behind the counter "in case of emergency." After determining the belt and tone-arm are in working order and all that is needed is a new stylus, the octogenarian puts on his bifocals ("Never used to need these," he mutters to nobody in particular) and flips through a dog-eared catalogue to determine what model number he's looking for, exactly.
He retreats to the back of the shop, manoeuvring his way around tube amplifiers, reel-to-reel decks and mixing boards piled six feet high like an audiophile version of Jenga. Moments later, Yaworski returns with one of those needles he bought from Eaton's almost 30 years ago. And a smile that seems to say, "So who's crazy now?"
Yaworski grew up about 20 kilometres north of Winnipeg, on a farm near Kirkness. He was curious about "how you get sound through the air" at an early age, he says, and still owns a portable radio his parents gave him when he was 10 -- a unit he used to take apart and put back together on a weekly basis.
After getting his electrician's papers in the mid-1950s, Yaworski landed a job repairing stereos first at Simpsons-Sears, then at the Bay. It was during his time there when he popped into Columbus Radio for the first time, to search for parts for a Dual turntable he was working on. The owner, Peter Drexler, was impressed by Yaworski's know-how and offered him a job on the spot.
Yaworski took over when Drexler retired in 1968. He moved the business to its present digs -- one block north of its original location -- 12 years later.
Debbie Beatie is Yaworski's daughter and part-time receptionist. She started splitting her time between Columbus Radio and her job at the University of Manitoba three years ago after her mother, Irene, who suffers from spinal stenosis, decided it was time to stay home for good.
Beatie laughs as she recalls a conversation she had with a salesman a couple of weeks ago. "He said he wanted to help us with our Internet profile because our website was so hard to find. I told him, 'Thank goodness for that,' and he replied, 'But you don't understand; I could make you busier.
"I was like, 'My dad already works six days a week, 14 hours a day. How much busier do you want him to be?'"
Asked if she is ever surprised by what comes through the door, Beatie shakes her head. "I was at first but not anymore. Dad doesn't just fix stereos but anything electrical; people have come in with battery-powered Big Birds (from Sesame Street), restaurant rice warmers... even breast pumps."
"Did you tell him about that job I did for the Queen?" Yaworski asks.
The last time Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited Winnipeg, Yaworski was contacted by the hotel the couple was residing at. Turns out when the royals hit the road, they did so with their own fridge, stove, and other appliances in tow. Problem was, the electrical cords on their appliances weren't compatible with the outlets in their hotel suite, so Yaworski had to remove all of the plugs and replace them with North American adaptors.
"Right down to their hair dryers," Yaworski says, standing beneath a mounted-to-the-wall mousetrap reading "Complaint department: Press for service." "I never asked how they found us but it was kind of nice being able to help out the Queen like that."
Beatie and her three siblings have given up telling their dad he should follow his wife's lead and call it a career.
"Before I started working here I didn't get it," she says. "I used to say, 'You should retire,' all the time but now that I see how happy people are to see him, I understand.
"The first thing out of most customers' mouths is, 'Bill, I don't know what I'd do if you weren't here.' But it really works both ways. I don't know what he'd do, either."
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.