Irreparable damage

Bill Jones, after 42 years, is finally closing the Procter Appliance Service shop in Silver Spring.

“You can’t make a good salary to survive on the way you could years ago,” said the 61-year-old owner of the oven, refrigerator and washer-dryer repair shop. “Everything has changed in the appliance business.”

Mr. Jones recently sold his home in Laurel and is in the process of moving to Bluffton, S.C., with his wife, Jeannette.

Mr. Jones is one of the many Washington-area repairmen who have struggled to stay afloat as residents replace, not repair, old appliances.

“It’s a dying trade,” said Scott Brown, Webmaster of www.fixitnow.com and self-proclaimed “Samurai Appliance Repairman.”

The reason for this is twofold, Mr. Brown said: The cost of appliances is coming down because of cheap overseas labor and improved manufacturing techniques, and repairmen are literally dying off.

The average age of appliance technicians is 42, and there are few young repairmen to take their place, said Mr. Brown, 47. He has been repairing appliances in New Hampshire for the past 13 years.

In the next seven years, the number of veteran appliance repairmen will decrease nationwide as current workers retire or transfer to other occupations, the Department of Labor said in its 2007 Occupational Outlook Handbook.

The federal agency said many prospective repairmen prefer work that is less strenuous and want more comfortable working conditions.

Local repairmen said it is simply a question of economics.

“Nowadays appliances are cheap, so people are just getting new ones,” said Paul Singh, a manager at the Appliance Service Depot, a repair shop in Northwest. “As a result, business has slowed down a lot.”

“The average repair cost for a household appliance is $50 to $350,” said Shahid Rana, a service technician at Rana Refrigeration, a repair shop in Capitol Heights. “If the repair is going to cost more than that, we usually tell the customer to go out and buy a new one.”

It’s not uncommon for today’s repairmen to condemn an appliance instead of fixing it for the sake of their customers’ wallets.

If they decide to repair an appliance that is likely to break down again, repairmen are criticized by their customers and often lose business because of a damaged reputation.

Mr. Jones said he based his repair decisions on the 50 percent rule: “If the cost of service costs more than 50 percent of the price of a new machine, I’ll tell my customers to get a new one.”

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