LYNNWOOD — A House of Clocks, the landmark business in a bright red building along Highway 99 in Lynnwood, is closing after more than 54 years.
The showroom chimes nearly nonstop with the grandfather and mantelpiece clocks and Kit-Kat, cuckoo and alarm clocks that line the walls and display cases.
“It’s been a tough decision to make,” said Susie Hennig, who took over the business with her siblings from her parents. “It’s provided a great living for the family for many, many years. … In the past two weeks, so many of our customers, our longtime loyal customers, have come in and showed how much they cared.”
The family posted the message, “Time to retire” on the reader board along the highway. Hennig, 65, and her brother, David Nofziger, 73, and their siblings are reaching retirement age. They say there’s also been a cultural shift in the past several years.
People seem disinterested in owning the showpiece clocks, the grandfather clocks that become a family heirloom handed down generation after generation.
“We’re all getting older, it comes to that, but the biggest problem is just the culture problem, that’s been a real big deal,” David Nofziger said. “Nobody wants Mom’s stuff.”
A House of Clocks remains profitable, but sales have been slowing for years.
“A clock needs to be wound once a week,” Hennig said. “It needs to be maintained and the younger generation doesn’t show a lot of interest in that.”
Their father, Dale Nofziger, started the business in 1963 after he moved the family from Ohio. He bought what was a little log cabin painted red at 15605 Highway 99. Over the years, the business has made additions to the front and the back.
The business sat on a hill that old timers then called Gunny Sack Hill, because people used feed sacks to help cars and trucks get up the muddy road before the highway was paved.
“We were here before I-5 was built and Highway 99 was a two-lane road so if you wanted to go north, you passed us,” Hennig said.
Location wasn’t the only way they attracted customers.
“We put the ‘A’ on so we’d be first in the Yellow Pages, but nobody knows where the Yellow Pages are now,” David Nofziger said.
Dale Nofziger attended the Bradley School of Horology in Peoria, Illinois, to learn how to become a clock and watchmaker. He also studied silver working, engraving and jewelry making.
Dale and Mildred Nofziger had six children, David Nofziger and Susie Hennig and Stephen and Jon Nofziger and Carol Johnston and Margie Webb.
Most of the children worked in the shop at some point. Dale Nofziger also taught the children who were interested how to repair watches and clocks.
“I grew up fixing watches and all of that kind of stuff,” David Nofziger said. “Part of what Dad said is, ‘If you fix watches, you can work your way through school’ — none of us had gone to college at that point. When I graduated from high school, they invented the Accutron and then Bell Labs came up with this thing called the transistor and that changed the watch business.”
That was the advent of the electronic wristwatches that often were cheaper. When a wristwatch stopped working, people would buy a new one instead of taking it to a repair shop.
The clock business became the main thrust of A House of Clocks. In the late 1960s, Dale Nofziger obtained the trademark for Ansonia Clocks, an American clock manufacturer that produced millions of clocks from 1850 to 1929 before it went belly-up during the Depression.
The family started manufacturing clocks out of small building near Paine Field under the name Ansonia Clock Co., which was still a well-known name throughout much of the country. In the 1990s, the family opened a 16,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Monroe.
The plant employed as many as 15 workers. Their clocks were sold in clock and jewelry shops and furniture stores around the country.
They also had success selling clocks in the service award industry, where companies would offer gifts to employees for special occasions or work anniversaries. The family also opened two other A House of Clocks stores — one in Bellevue and one in Tukwila.
Dale Nofziger never really retired from the family business. He continued working until his death in 2010. His wife, Mildred, died in 2011.
Susie Hennig took over as president of the company about 15 years ago. She, David and Stephen Nofziger and their brother-in-law Curt Webb remain involved in the business. They have one employee, Crystal Rice, who works at the shop and fixes some clocks.
The family says the market for clocks started slowing down years ago. The family closed the Bellevue then the Tukwila shops and a decade ago shut down the Monroe plant.
Part of the reason that clocks went out of favor was the smartphone — everybody has a clock in their pocket, David Nofziger said.
“The cultural thing has been creeping up for quite a long time,” David Nofziger said. “You know, if it’s not on my cellphone, then don’t bother me.”
People started moving more often and no longer wanted to lug around a grandfather clock.
“In my generation, you never thought about changing jobs; nowadays, people change jobs every two or three years and it’s no big deal,” David Nofziger said. “It’s not just clocks, I’m sure you’ve been to estate sales where people have these just gorgeous dining tables and people can’t give them away.”
Now, the family is closing its last shop. They’ve stopped taking orders for repairing clocks this week. They’ve marked down all of their clocks 50 percent. They’re not sure what they’ll do with the building, which they own.
The family intends to close the doors the day before Christmas Eve. What if A House of Clock runs out of stock before then?
“We’d like to,” David Nofziger said. “I don’t know what we’d do. It’s not like I’ve done this before so I know how to do it.”