Ask Bob Tuerk for the time and he has about 3,000 ways he can tell you. And not one of them is a smart phone.
"There's lots of clocks in here," Tuerk, 82, said of his 3,000 timepieces, including the 80 grandfather clocks in the basement he uses for spare parts. "There's nobody as big as I am."
Tuerk's House of Clocks on St. Paul's far East Side has been a comprehensive, full-service clock retail and repair business going on 50 years. If his is not, technically, the last clock shop in the Twin Cities, it's certainly one of a handful — and the only one still selling new clocks while fixing everything they sell.
There are grandfather clocks, cuckoo clocks, mantel clocks, anniversary clocks and ship's bells. Clocks cover every wall and are bunched on shelves and fill displays.
Oh yeah — they replace watch batteries and repair and adjust watch wristbands as well.
"We do lots of repairs," Tuerk said of what's become his bread-and-butter business. "Lots."
But while an hour or so in Tuerk's 4,000-square-foot shop feels like a step back in time, he's the first to admit that the clock for the future of his business is ... ticking. A few years back, the store started selling clothes, jewelry, candles and other items. A sign for Annie's Boutique is draped out front, near another touting clocks sold and repaired, and batteries replaced.
"Because clocks are kind of dying," Tuerk said.
Phones and fitness trackers, computers and digital bedside alarm clocks have made what Tuerk has spent a lifetime selling — honest-to-goodness clocks with numbered faces and hour and second hands — a relic of the past, he said. There is only one company that supplies his grandfather clocks, he said, down from about 60 when he first opened House of Clocks.
This also makes parts hard to find, he said, although his main repair guy can make a needed part if a supplier cannot be found.
Time was, Tuerk said, he sold hundreds of grandfather clocks a year. Unloaded them by the semitrailer truck-full. Business got so big, he quickly expanded into a former public library building at the corner of Arlington and White Bear avenues. Customers from as far away as Greenland would send their clocks to be repaired, he said, and he'd even take his tools on airplanes to make house calls in other states.
"Not anymore," he said. "Everything changes. Today, they use a satellite [to tell time]."
Tuerk grew up in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul. He started fixing watches for his uncles when he was 13 or 14. Always mechanically inclined, he enrolled in the watch- and clock-making program at what is now St. Paul College as a 16-year-old high school student. At 19, he apprenticed at People's Jewelers in the Golden Rule building in downtown St. Paul. At 20, he bought his first house.
After several years with JB Hudson Jewelers, both downtown and in Rosedale Center, Tuerk opened the House of Clocks in 1975. In the early 1980s, he moved his booming business to the former library nearby.
"It used to have a fallout shelter," he said of the basement where the House of Clocks does many of its repairs.
Julie Bandemer joined the operation as a part-time clerk in 2006. Under Tuerk's guidance, she said, she's learned a lot about the business. People still buy clocks, she said, but it's a niche market.
"You have a whole generation of people who couldn't care less about a clock. And then you have a generation who grew up with clocks. They need to have that noise. They want to carry on that tradition with their family," she said of the cacophony of chimes and cuckoos and gongs that sounds every hour. "And then you just have people who think they're cool."
"We have a lot of 30-somethings that think clocks are super cool. Or they have clocks in their family that they are repairing, putting a good chunk of money into [it]."
But the writing, like the hundreds of clocks of all shapes and sizes, is on the wall. "Once Bob is done doing it, there's nobody to take his place," Bandemer said.
Bandemer's son now does house calls for the grandfather clocks, but his knowledge level is nowhere near Tuerk's, she said. There was a young guy back in 2014, Tuerk said, who he'd hoped would take over the shop. But the would-be successor met a woman, got married and, well, it didn't work out.
So, retirement isn't really a thing at the moment, Tuerk said. And as long as his main repair guy — who is 14 years younger but whose health is not as good — sticks around, everything should be fine.
Helen Andren and her husband, Jeff, certainly are doing their part to help. Loyal customers since buying a house on the East Side in the early 1990s, they have eight clocks in their living room, more in the den — including Mickey Mouse clocks — and a few in the bedroom.
"My husband's a clock freak," Andren said, adding that as a boy, Jeff was inspired by an uncle whose Kansas City home was filled wall-to-wall with clocks. "Ever since then he said, 'I'm going to do that someday.'"
Jeff Andren's interests now include the steampunk genre of clocks.
Helen Andren, who said the shop was packed with customers on a recent Saturday — including a dad and his boys who'd broken a chain on a cuckoo clock — said House of Clocks might not have the market it once enjoyed, but it's still a fascinating place to spend time.
"I just like going into the shop and looking," she said. "And the next thing you know, it's two hours later."