MILLCREEK — If you’re looking for evidence the American dream hasn’t gone completely corporate. That grass-roots capitalism is alive and still kicking. That mom and pop businesses can survive in a big box world.
Say hello to Mom and Pop.
Norm and Pam Recksiek are owners and proprietors of the Mount Olympus Clock Shop, a nearly 60-year institution at the intersection of 3900 South and 2000 East.
The clock shop is surrounded by a Chevron station, a Fresh Market grocery store, a Subway, an Arby’s and a Papa Murphy’s, all of them displaying the distinctive logos of enfranchised America.
The clock shop’s logo, on the other hand, is a colorful wood sign that was painted and carved by a hermit in Lake Tahoe whom the Recksieks happened to meet while on a trip years ago.
Admiring the man’s carvings, they asked, “Could you do us a sign for our shop?”
“Sure could,” he answered, and the next thing they knew, their sign was sitting in the driveway.
The sign is a one-of-a-kind, just like the business.
It all began sometime in the 1950s when Heinrich Recksiek (pronounced wreck-sick), Norm’s grandfather, started going door to door in the Millcreek area asking people if they had sewing machines, clocks or watches that needed fixing.
Heinrich, who soon after arriving in America went by “Henry,” had learned how to repair such things in his native Germany. He might have remained there had it not been for World War I, which he fought in, and World War II, which he survived. Henry had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints soon after the end of the first war and decided he wanted to move to Salt Lake City, the heart of Mormondom, after the end of the second one. Circa 1950, he and his wife, Anna, found sponsors and immigrated.
As soon as Henry repaired enough sewing machines and clocks to afford a house, he built one in the middle of an orchard on the east side of the Salt Lake Valley with a terrific view of Mount Olympus. When the house was finished he moved his repair business into the basement — the Mount Olympus Service Co., forerunner of the Mount Olympus Clock Shop, was born in 1958. Nearly 56 years later, the business and the house are both still standing.
Norm Recksiek can recite all of this history because he’s been around for practically all of it. He was born in 1955 and has a clear memory from his youth of when his grandparents both lived and worked in the home. In 1976 he started working in the store, and in 1987 he bought the family business from his Uncle Werner and Aunt Helga, who had by then taken it over from the grandparents.
Over the years the business added specialty items like cuckoo clocks, wristwatches, and the product that became their mainstay: collectible nutcrackers direct from Germany.
Werner and Helga came upon the nutcrackers while on a buying trip in the early 1960s. They met a man named Friedrich Christian Steinbach, whose factory in Germany produced some of the world’s most desirable ornamental nutcrackers.
As family legend has it, a skeptical Helga said after the first shipment of nutcrackers arrived: “If these things don’t sell, we can use them for firewood.”
To date, the Recksieks have sold “at least” 50,000 Steinbach nutcrackers.
They also continue to sell and service clocks and wristwatches, although they no longer repair sewing machines.
How have they done it? What’s their secret to longevity in a changing economy increasingly dominated by big business?
That’s easy, says Norm. In a word: family.
“The family takes care of the business and the business takes care of the family,” he says. “There are good times and times that aren’t so good, but the family is always there and we take care of each other.”
Very few outsiders have been on the payroll over the past half-century. Today, if you go in the shop, you’ll find Norm repairing the cuckoo clocks; Pam working on the books; their son Joseph working on battery and quartz clocks as well as spearheading the retail end of things; another son, Adam, fixing the antique clocks; and yet another son, Aaron, at his desk repairing wristwatches. Norm’s brother, Tom, is also there every day.
The only son not in the business is Jared, who left five years ago to launch a sales career of his own. Norm and Pam’s three daughters, Kirsten, Marlayna and Annaliese, have also taken their turns working the counter.
“Everyone’s learned how to work,” beams Norm, who notes that Joseph’s oldest son, Sam, just turned 11 and isn’t long from becoming the next in a long line of Recksieks to find employment in the shop. He represents the fifth generation.
“They say family businesses have a hard time beyond the third generation,” says Norm, who still repairs clocks in the same downstairs room as his grandfather 50-plus years ago, “but we’re trying not to change and just keep doing what we’ve always done.”
What worked for Heinrich is working for them.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org