Running smoothly: Modest, colorful Price Hill Repair celebrates 60 years of fixing it

Legacy includes a promise from a grandfather
Running smoothly: Modest, colorful Price Hill Repair celebrates 60 years of fixing it
Posted at 12:00 PM, Jun 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-27 12:00:22-04

CINCINNATI -- Jim Fritsch can spin story after story, but there's none better than the one about how he became the lawn mower man of West Price Hill.

His one-man shop at the end of West Eight Street turned 60 this year. Fritsch -- whose long brown hair and beard, John Lennon glasses and ever-present bandana give him a signature look -- has been there for all but 13 of those years, repairing mowers and muscle car radiators and swapping stories with his loyal customers.

It all started because he wanted a good education. The oldest of a Cincinnati firefighter's six children, Fritsch, 58, was 13 when he announced he wanted to attend Elder High School. But his father said he couldn't afford the $600 or so that it cost back in the early 1970s.

His grandfather, Alfred Fritsch, had a solution. He invited young Jim to work with him at his Price Hill Repair lawn mower and radiator shop after school and on weekends. 

Before Price Hill Repair moved onto West Eighth Street in 1987, the building housed a pony keg. Jim Fritsch uses its old walk-in refrigerator as a store room. (Brent Coleman | WCPO contributor) 

"He guaranteed I'd make enough money to go to Elder and have enough money in my pocket to buy a car at 16," Fritsch said of his grandfather. "Everything he said came true."

Not a day goes by that Fritsch doesn't think about his grandfather.

"He's right here on the corner," Fritsch said, gesturing to the west gate of New St. Joseph Cemetery at the end of West Eighth. "We pass him every day."

It's likely people pass by Fritsch's shop every day without noticing it. A former pony keg, the small white building with neatly painted red trim and awning is about as modest as it gets. Those who do stop and step inside Fritsch's shop, however, will be treated to a time-travel experience.

Price Hill Repair moved from Warsaw Avenue to West Eighth in 1987, the year Alfred Fritsch died at age 77. It is packed with 60-plus years of collectibles -- model cars, some displayed and some in boxes; motor-related signs; old tools and about a dozen neon clocks.

Fritsch's favorite clock is the shop's most prominent one, a triple-neon spinner model produced by the Electric Neon Clock Co. of Cleveland.

Jim Fritsch's work bench came out of a bakery that used to be on West Eighth Street down from Price Hill Repair. (Brent Coleman | WCPO contributor)

"This one's the shop's good luck charm," Fritsch said. "It's been with the shop since the beginning of time. It's a very rare clock because it has three colors. There's green behind the spinner, the white face and the red ring."

Another favorite is an "Open 24 Hours" neon piece that Fritsch said he leaves on all the time to fool his customers.

"I am open 24 hours, but not in a row," Fritsch jokes.

The business Fritsch runs, however, is no joke. The service he provides is serious. He picks up mowers, repairs them and delivers them back to his customers. He has been running the shop since 1994, all but the last two with pickup and delivery help from his sister, Judy.

"He's the only one in the area that does that," said Fritsch's wife of 12 years, Loretta Sarni. "And he runs everything out in one week while everyone else takes three to four weeks."

Fritsch's work pace can be overwhelming, From late winter through the summer, he typically has 40-50 mowers in his shop and a similar amount in his covered shed in back awaiting repair. Earlier this year he set a personal record by working 115 days straight to help keep his customers cutting with confidence.

On the side of the shop is a mural a friend painted of Frisch being pulled by an unconventional lawn mower. (Brent Coleman | WCPO contributor)

Fritsch keeps his own books, answers the phone, deals with walk-ins and stocks his shelves with parts. He salvages old mower blades and tosses used spark plugs into barrels. In his spare time, he studies for annual repair certification tests required by mower and parts manufacturers such as Briggs & Stratton, MTD, Tecumseh, Bowers and Troy-Bilt.

All that work, Fritsch said, leaves him little time to play, but on occasion, he cruises around in the 1968 Mustang GT Fastback he has in a garage at his home a half-mile from his shop.

His "we can do that" attitude and dedication to "stay right-sized" have served Fritsch well over the years, his wife said. And it has kept the shop looking like a time capsule.

"I've heard a lot of people say 'Wow, this is really cool, like a step back in time,' " Sarni said. "I've heard a few people say 'the "American Pickers" would love this place.'"

For now, Fritsch said he will continue to fix mowers at the 3-by-8-foot work bench he salvaged when a nearby Butterkist Bakery closed. What he'd really like to do, he said, is restore more old car radiators. But whereas he used to repair 10 in a day, "I don't do that many in a month anymore."

Perhaps that can be Fritsch's passion-hobby when he retires.

"I'm getting ready to call it quits here once I get into my 60s," he said, but what he'll do with all the stuff in his shop is unclear. He said he'll keep some of his treasures but would like to find a bulk buyer.

"I can't take it all with me, I guess."