Medford man watches over a niche market

MEDFORD — For those who make, repair and love clocks, their future in a digital world is uncertain.


“How many young people do you know who care about clocks?’’ is the question posed by Jim Mulhern.

In spite of what he sees as the dim prospects for the industry’s future, Mulhern, the owner of the Medford Clock Shop, has tapped into a niche market for his skills. His expertise at repairing new and antique clocks and barometers has earned him a wide reputation.

“I have customers in every state,’’ he said, adding, “There are not too many people doing this and there are still those who require the service and are willing to pay for it.’’

For 15 years, Mulhern, known in the area as “Jim, the Clockman,’’ operated his shop in the Stagecoach Building in the heart of the busy business district. When a fire destroyed the structure in 2008, he had to make a decision about where to relocate.

He loved what he did and never considered going out of business. But because he had already seen a slowdown in the retail side of his operation, Mulhern opted to work in a small structure he built himself behind his home. His reputation for high quality workmanship and his website attracted the kind of customers — and clocks — he was looking for.

Short-term solutions are not for “the clockman.’’ “I’m not interested in the customer who just wants to get a clock working without addressing the real problem,’’ he said. To maintain them at peak efficiency, clocks should be oiled every two years and completely overhauled every 10 years, he counsels.

In the world of the Weather Channel, who needs a working barometer? Many people, said Mulhern, among them, surveyors and mountain climbers, fishermen and hikers. Repairing them makes up 50 percent of his business.

“Barometers are really altimeters,’’ he said. “They are based on weight and they tell us what the weather will be, not what it is. We have windows for that.’’

Most of the barometers and clocks in his workshop are part of his own collection. The oldest is an English grandfather’s clock made before 1740. Others include a railroad conductor’s pocket watch from 1929 and a French clock, made in 1880, that is comprised of more than 300 separate pieces.

Mulhern especially enjoys working on clocks that are more complicated and, therefore, more challenging. Many of his tools are antiques, collected over the years. Among the most important is an 1880 jeweler’s lathe. “It’s an essential tool,’’ he said.

As he works, the clockman’s special high-quality tweezers and needle-nose pliers are always nearby. A loupe, or magnifying glass, is attached to his glasses to enable him to see pieces no larger than a speck of sand.

And when he tires of the meticulous, finely detailed work, he goes to the other side of his workshop. There, a lawnmower in need of repair awaits.