Repairs to equipment and household items keeping many above water
At a time when American consumerism is at an all-time low, one would think repair businesses would be flourishing.
Yes and no.
"If someone comes in with a project I'm usually three to four days out but now I'm standing here waiting for people to walk in the door," said Shawn Mahowald, co-owner of Izzy's Machine & Welding Shop in Park Rapids.
He hopes the lull is temporary.
Come spring, he plans to be up to his eyeballs repairing docks, boatlifts, boat trailers and farm equipment.
There are signs people are hanging on to what they own, repairing stoves, appliances, furnishings and equipment rather than trading up or purchasing new.
"Last fall I had seven outdoor hot water wood stoves in here," he said. Most had sprung a leak.
The owners decided it was cheaper to repair them, Mahowald said.
"People can't afford to go out and buy new," he said. "If they can get five more years out of something like this, they can budget for the next five years."
There has been a steady parade of broken down logging trucks, which Mahowald can get to quickly. He sometimes enlists his brother-in-law, a retired educator, to fetch the parts and steel while he fires up the welder.
But even the decision to repair can be wrenching.
"You can't get away with a $100 bill anymore," said Victor Aho, who stopped by Izzy's this week to get some estimates on equipment repair.
Aho owns Midway Spreading, a custom spreading business with farm clients.
A skid steer loader needs repairs, his spreaders get heavy wear and tear, he said.
He was checking out the price for Mahowald to repair the loader's hydraulic cylinders.
"You're looking at around $200 in parts and five, six hours of labor," Mahowald said.
And here's where the county's interconnected economy comes into play.
The men said there are crops still standing in wet, snow-covered fields. Until farmers and ranchers can get into them to harvest last season's crops, they can't plant new.
Until they can sell those crops, farmers must scrimp on the usual goods and services they would ordinarily need.
Additionally, milk prices are down, Aho said, so "I can't expect dairy farmers to be ready to roll" in the spring, needing his services.
Ideally, Aho said he should replace his spreaders every couple years, but if farmers can't afford his services, he'll need to get by that one extra year or more on his current inventory.
So he'll likely engage Mahowald's services, as others will. He's between a rock and a hard place.
He said he doesn't want to let his equipment deteriorate further, necessitating more expensive repairs.
Mahowald keeps a positive attitude.
"When it starts to warm up people want things done," he said. And farmers are in a period of limbo when road restrictions go into effect in the spring, so Mahowald said there will be another period of inactivity.
"When road restrictions are lifted everybody will be out and moving," he said.
"But right now we're all in the same boat."
And Mahowald is optimistic he'll be repairing that boat this spring.