Downtown clock and watch biz keeps ticking

For Larry DeMoss, time is ticking towards retirement, but like the hundreds of timepieces on display in his store, he’s not slowing down yet.
DeMoss, 78, has owned Clocks and Collectibles at 7573 Monterey St. since 1995, and he’s still surviving in an economic world increasingly taken over by the Internet because of his skills with delicate, precise and specialized antique watches and clocks.
The Internet can’t fix an antique Dutch grandfather clock from the 1700’s, but DeMoss can.
Because of the scarcity of DeMoss’s skills, competing with the online marketplace hasn’t been the struggle for him as in other storefront businesses around the country. He has no shortage of work.
If he’s not repairing pre-WWII pocket watches, or off on a nearby housecall for a repair, (he only goes to Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Hollister and as far as Aromas, never over the hill), he’s in the market to sell an expensive Rolex or Cartier. With a business that stands the test of time, he’s a busy as ever.
“They can’t do repair work online,” DeMoss said. “People also don’t buy as many clocks and watches online like they do in stores. If you’re going to spend a bunch of money on something, you want to feel it and touch it, turn in over and see what it feels like on the inside and outside. You can’t do that on the Internet. They do a lot of shopping online, but not a lot of buying. They get an idea of what they want, then they come to someone like me.”
It’s the reverse of complaints by other retailers who complain that people try on clothes in their shops and then buy them cheaper online.
DeMoss has even weathered the emergence of cellphones and the fact that nearly everyone can tell the time by looking at their phone.
“There are so many different kinds of people there’s always going to be a tremendous amount of watch and clock repair work,” DeMoss said. “When battery-operated watches first came out they predicted that was the end of the clock industry. Wrong. It just boosted the clock industry.”
DeMoss’s passion for watches and clocks goes back to his teen years in Ventura. As an 18-year old, he started tinkering with his own clock and watch collection. DeMoss then embarked on a stint in the Army. After spending a year in Mississippi, a year in Montana and three years in Madrid Spain, DeMoss worked 35 years as an electrical engineer for Analog Devices in Sunnyvale and Sylvania in Mountain View. When his company was bought out, he decided to do something else.
“I started out just doing clock repair because I thought that was the best opportunity to get in the business,” said DeMoss, who has lived in Morgan Hill for 45 years. “So I opened a little repair shop. Then as the business grew, I started selling older antique clocks and it just mushroomed from there.”
While DeMoss’s store is called Clocks and Collectibles, he has shifted his focus from selling collectibles to repair work and watch and clock sales.
“I started the business with four ladies who sold collectibles,” DeMoss said. “We shared a building together, so I called the business Clocks and Collectables. Over the years they drifted off to other places and I’m still here.”
DeMoss’s customers range from teenagers to men and women older than he is. He gets customers ranging from Gilroy, Santa Cruz, Carmel, the Central Valley and everywhere in between. His best customers often come in looking for expensive, $25,000 watches.
“When I get the expensive watches in stock I sell them as quick as I get them,” DeMoss said. “I’ve got long waiting lists for Rolexes.”
Open five days a week from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and closed Sunday and Monday, DeMoss can be found, hunched over his lighted workbench, peering through magnifying glasses, doing repair work. If he gets a repair he’s not familiar with, he figures it out.
“The best part of the job is the satisfaction of making things work,” DeMoss said. “I’m constantly learning. It’s an ongoing thing. I have things coming in here for repair work that I’ve never seen before.”
DeMoss has collected a tiny warehouse of the small gears and screws needed to fix numerous brands of watches. As other clock repair stores closed, DeMoss bought up what they had left, stocking his arsenal.. When he doesn’t have what he needs, he makes it in his machine shop in the back of the store.
For DeMoss, a man with the deep, Sam Elliott-like voice and a bushy mustache, like Yosemite Sam, he’s looking forward to someone buying out his business. For him, it’s nearing time to enjoy his retirement, with his wife Loree, three kids, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“I’ve always kept myself busy, woodworking, hiking and hunting, with a camera.”
He’s not done yet, but, the clock is ticking.