This tiny repair shop has lived in Ladue since 1947, right out there on Clayton Road, with 1950s TVs and old Motorola stereos stacked up outside the door like a junk dealer in the city. The owners of boutiques on either side may wince, but nobody dares criticize the folks at Park Electric -- not when they'll glance at a vintage appliance, squint, brush off a little rust, turn it upside down, nod once and quote you an amazingly low price to restore it to perfect working order in a few days' time. They don't take plastic, and they don't suffer fools, but they'll burn vats of midnight oil indulging sentimental attachments whose plunder could mean divorce or disinheritance ("Throw that thing away? How can you say that? Mother got this when she first married Dad!" "But it hasn't worked since 1962, and it smokes when you turn it on! It's gonna blow us all up." "Then we'll blow up, because I'm not throwing it away.")
Bill Schoenhoefer took the reins (cords?) of Park Electric about 17 years ago. His dad, Ralph Schoenhoefer, used to make house calls on St. Louisans' sick toasters and fix that 100th string of Christmas lights so the big old bulbs would glow. Today, though, you have to bring your toaster to the shop, clutching it to your bosom as you squeeze your way around VCRs, stereos, a glamorous '40s torchère lamp waiting for rewiring, a porcelain-frog lamp base with its webbed hands outstretched. Schoenhoefer's solemn about his work, ruefully acknowledging that the leaky spring-green galvanized watering can he just soldered "won't be a permanent fix. The metal's too thin -- it's rusting through." So ... why fix it? He shrugs. "It's special to her. And she can reach her plants with it.
"Used to be, a lot of things could be fixed," he adds. "Now companies just use plastic, and they won't even make replacement parts." Schoenhoefer keeps shelves of gizmos on hand -- especially the ancient light bulbs you can't find anywhere, like the teeny circlet that powers the bullet-nosed chrome flashlight your grandfather used to shine on courting couples. He also keeps, deep in his old attic of a shop, the oddments he needs to fix an electric bird caller that plays a tape on speaker ("I don't know if it's so much to call the ducks as it is to distract the crows!") and the zapper that's supposed to keep somebody's cat away from the bird feeder and -- his personal favorite -- the old Sunbeam Mixmaster, solid metal on its own stand, with its own metal bowl. He reaches behind the counter, pulls up an old white one and squints at the bottom. "Model No. 5," he grins. "Gotta be at least 50 years old."
He'll fix hedge trimmers that have bumped into brick walls, Hoover uprights that have sucked down one too many wet noodles, clocks that haven't ticked in years. In short, he'll fix anything that'll fit through the door -- unless it's new. Don't even think about bringing the microwave. And don't be tempted by those three-figure retro reproductions in fancy home catalogs, either -- the new ripple-based blenders that mime the old Osterizer, the new rotating fans in their black enamel cages. You already have one of those in the basement, cobwebbed and faithful. And Park Electric can make it right again.