- Associated Press - Friday, July 15, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The watchmaker known as Sasha, a fixture in Broad Ripple since his emigration from the Soviet Union back when Leonid Brezhnev was in charge, has closed up his shop.

Sasha’s Jewelry was a small business, occupying a space the size of a living room. It had one employee, the elfin Sasha. Its exit caused no economic ripples. But it marks the departure of another small, day-time shop from an area once full of them but now known for trendy restaurants and nightclubs.

It also means the northside neighborhood has seen the last of one of its more memorable characters.

Sasha, whose real name is Tsalya Khitlik, had been a common sight sitting in his storefront window at 739 E. Broad Ripple Ave. since 1977, wearing a jeweler’s magnifying loupe and hunched over the entrails of broken watches.

He left his homeland, with the help of an Indianapolis Jewish organization, not because of religious persecution, he said, though he is Jewish. He left because the communist system would not allow him to get ahead. “I know gold, you know?” he said, murkily, the other day over a Coke at a Broad Ripple restaurant. “I businessman. I got KGB breathing down neck.”

When Sasha arrived in Indianapolis with his wife, Tamara, and their son Edward, he said they were one of eight Russian families in the city.

Sasha worked briefly at a pawn shop then at a jewelry store chain before landing at Fisch Jewelry in Broad Ripple. He repaired watches and quickly became proprietor Ann Fisch’s right hand.

“He spoke English,” said Tony Tomasello, who has worked next door at Kimmel Shoe Repair since the 1960s, “but it was broken English, very broken.” (It’s still pretty broken.) Over the years the two tradesmen became friends. “I used to take him a doughnut once in a while,” Tomasello said. “We talked about being an immigrant - my father came from Sicily, he was a foreigner too. He figured it out, and so did Sasha.”

Sasha became an American citizen in the 1980s. He received a letter from President Ronald Reagan congratulating him. “I still have this, with photo of Reagan” he said. “It’s some place.”

Not long after he went to work for Fisch Jewelry, Ann Fisch retired. Sasha took over, and the store became Sasha’s Jewelry. Tamara worked alongside her husband. In 1980, the couple had a second son, Allan.

Sasha worked in his store five days a week, eight hours a day until the end and did not have time to develop hobbies, unless you count gambling. He brightens at the mention of it. “I home and feel bad, you know?” he said, holding his chest. “I sitting there, I tired. I go to Shelbyville (to the Indiana Grand Racing & Casino). Play the blackjack. Poker. Feel good. You know?”

In the 1990s he won $10,000 playing the Hoosier Lottery. “I remember seeing him after that,” said Bill McLane, who opened a real estate firm in Broad Ripple the year after Sasha joined Fisch. “Sasha was really excited. I remember he said, ‘Only in America!’

“Sasha has had an interesting life.”

He was born in 1935 in Donetsk, Ukraine. He recalls riding on a train with his mother during World War II when it was attacked by German bombers. Mother and son bailed out and laid low by the side of the tracks as the bombs dropped. He was hit by shrapnel in the right calf but not hurt seriously. “Feel this,” he said the other day, lifting his pant leg to expose the effected area.

Sasha returned to his homeland in 1989 when his mother was gravely ill. She died days before he arrived. Ever the capitalist, Sasha brought with him a personal computer, a thing nearly impossible to get in the Ukraine in 1989. “I sold for 34,000 rubles,” Sasha said. “This is big money.”

Sasha admits to making some bad investments along the way and probably falling for a scam or two. But he also protected what was his. In his shop he kept a Colt .45 at the ready and in 1983 fired it at a thief making off with a ring. The guy got away, but the bullet hole Sasha made in his metal door frame, head-high, remains.

Tamara died in 2004, and Sasha married her sister a few years later. It was a marriage of convenience, he said - “so she could stay in U.S., but not like in love or something.” They later divorced.

Sasha said when he started in business in Broad Ripple his rent was $200 a month. At the end it was $1,500, “and they raise to $1,800,” he said. His landlord, listed in county records as Doheny Holdings LLC., could not be reached for comment.

In a time of smart phones and inexpensive, cell-powered watches, business at Sasha’s Jewelry wasn’t exactly booming. Sasha said he couldn’t afford $1,800, but he was ready to fold the tent. He is 81 and his eyesight has faded. “Glaucoma and cataract,” he said.

When Sasha arrived in Broad Ripple, the area was a garden-variety shopping district, with a stationery shop, a hobby shop, bakeries, a hardware store and so on. Since the 1980s it has transformed into more of an after-dark destination.

Sasha’s is the second small shop to exit Broad Ripple in recent months. A few doors to the east, a tailor shop called United Repair cleared out in May. United Repair had been in Broad Ripple since at least the 1950s. The 800-some square feet that housed Sasha’s and before that Fisch’s had been a jewelry store for nearly 80 years.

“Broad Ripple is popular, rents are up, and that makes it hard for these little shops,” said Alan Hague, a lifelong resident of the area and publisher of the weekly Broad Ripple Gazette (Hague’s grandmother celebrated his graduation from Broad Ripple High School by buying him a watch from Fisch Jewelry). “It’s more of a village when you have little stores like that, but times change.”

Sasha has one surviving son, Edward. Allan died several years ago. He has four grandchildren. They live in Gulfport, Fla.

Sasha plans to move there and “maybe rent kiosk in mall. Sell something.”


Source: Indianapolis Star, https://indy.st/2a3lc6w


Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

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