Southwest residents have been calling on the Stavrou family to fix broken appliances for more than a quarter century
Got an ancient stove? A persnickety dryer? If you’re not the type to toss it, maybe you’ve called on Costas Stavrou for help.
Stavrou and his wife, Lorraine, have owned Kingfield’s Nicollet Appliance for 27 years and have earned a reputation as the shop that will take on tough jobs others refuse.
Stavrou came to the United States from Cyprus in 1979, when he was 21 years old. “I could hardly speak the language!” he laughs. After three years of business and technical school, he convinced his teachers to let him open his own business rather than complete the mandatory internship. His father, Stavros Stavrou, joined him in his first year of business, charming customers and neighbors alike.
For many years, at locations at 41st & Nicollet and then 43rd & Nicollet, the family sold appliances as well as repairing them. But, a little more than 10 years ago, they consolidated and now work from their Nicollet Avenue home. Lorraine does the books, and Costas makes the service calls.
How has the repair business changed since you started?
It was kind of strange at first, because the minute something broke down, people liked to throw it away and buy new stuff. But the reason we stayed in business is because we have very loyal customers. They’re always calling, asking for our opinion: “Do you think it’s worth repairing my washer?” And we flat out tell them from the beginning, if it’s going to be a transmission or a motor, that’s going to be very expensive on a 25-year-old washer. It’s not going to be worth repairing.
Now it’s not so much a throwaway society any more. Because of the market being so tight, people don’t have the money. People want to repair instead of throw away their old appliances. We’ve had a huge increase in our business. It’s great. I’m glad people are not throwing away stuff.
What are you known for?
We don’t mind working on very old appliances — I’m talking about 40-year-old and 50-year-old stoves — if we can repair them without getting the parts. A lot of time we can because they just need cleaning or adjusting. A lot of companies don’t like to work on them because they’re too old. We always give them a chance.
Have you had any memorable sales calls?
I went to repair a stove one day and I had to test the oven. I had to remove the bottom drawer to get to the parts I needed to test. The lady was looking at me kind of nervous and watched me the whole time. I thought she was just checking out what I was doing. But then I saw some envelopes under the stove and I asked, “What are these envelopes?” And she said, “What envelopes?” pretending she didn’t know.
So I opened one up and it was stacked with money. I said, “Oh my god, you’re using your stove to store your money underneath?” And she said, “Yeah, that’s the safest place. Nobody would think to look for money under the stove.” I said, “You could burn your money!”
I took the money out. It was hilarious. I couldn’t believe it.
What’s a common problem on a repair call?
The thing I run into a lot is people who decide that they’re going to fix it themselves. So they take it all apart. And they take it apart the wrong way. And then they call me: “I tried to fix my washer and couldn’t finish it, so please come and rescue me!” So I go over there and it’s in a million pieces. I put it all back together so I can run the machine and figure out what’s going on. Then I have to take it apart the right way and fix it. It happens quite often.
Do you have any tips for people in the market for new appliances?
The first thing is how long they’re going to be in the home. If they’re going to spend $1,000 for a washer and only be there three more years, then they don’t get anything out of the washing machine. A $1,000 washer is not going to sell the house.
The other thing they should be looking at is how the machine is going to function. Instead of getting all the bells and whistles and all the computerized things, get a simple machine with a timer and you turn it and it will wash your clothes the same way. And you spend only $400 instead of $1,000.
What about maintenance tips?
For repairs, before you call somebody, you can check a couple of things on your own. You can see if somebody unplugged the machine by accident. I see that a lot. Somebody wants to vacuum the basement and they unplug the washer and they don’t bother to plug it back in. Then somebody goes downstairs to do the laundry and it won’t turn on. “Costas, come and fix my washer!” I go over there and plug it in and it starts.
It happens a lot: Somebody turned the water off by accident or the plumber came and did some work in the house. Or they turned the gas off for whatever reason. Check the gas before you call me.
Sometimes after you paint in the house, you turn the stove or the dryer on and smell gas. There are fumes in the air and it starts burning all those fumes up, and it smells. Of course if you have the fumes in your clothes, if you put them in the dryer, it smells like kerosene when you take your clothes out.
What are your plans for the future?
I don’t think we want to expand any more. We like working together and we don’t have the overhead expenses. If we stay busy like we are now, we’re going to do well until we’re ready to retire. We’re hoping that we’ll be able to sell our business, because we want to see it continue.
What brought you to Minnesota?
For that I blamed my uncles. They are both professors at the University of Minnesota. My brother and sister were here first and then I followed four years later. My mom and dad live two blocks away from us. We have a big Minneapolis family here. My uncles have their own kids and my cousins have their own kids. So we are maybe between 25 and 30 people now, the Stavrou family.
Your dad’s retired. Does he miss the business?
It was great working with my dad for the first 15 years. He was the nice old guy everyone loved to come and visit, even if they didn’t have anything to buy. People still ask if he’s around. Once in a while he goes on a call with me if I need the help or just because I need the company. He loves it.