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‘Gem’ of a shop moves over to Fresh Meadows

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When Ed Bochner opened Gem Repair in 1951, he fixed broken vacuum cleaners and sewing machines in a small shop on Northern Boulevard in Flushing.

Some 52 years later, the business, which moved to Fresh Meadows earlier this month, has not forgotten its roots. It is still patching up vacuums and sewing machines but also has grown into a profitable wheelchair distributor.

Ed Bochner is long retired now and his son, Jeff, operates the business, now called Gem, at 176-39 Union Turnpike, attempting to further build upon the small repair shop near where he grew up.

“We continued throughout the years to build money for advertising and we grew through word of mouth a large customer base,” said Jeff Bochner, who now lives in Forest Hills.

“It’s exciting because we were at the (Flushing) location for so long. We just needed more space to meet growth demands.”

It was not until the early 1960s that the elder Bochner expanded the business and began repairing typewriters and other home appliances to bring in more income, Jeff Bochner said.

Still, the real turn in Gem’s history happened when Ed Bochner, who still lives in Flushing, discovered the market for wheelchair repairs in the late 1960s. Although fixing wheelchairs was a successful practice, he decided to begin selling the equipment shortly after that.

“People knew us as a repair place and relied on us to take care of the problems, but they suggested and demanded we sell them their equipment,” Jeff Bochner said.

The heart of the business is no longer appliance repair, as Gem sells wheelchairs, scooters, stair-lifts, electric lift-out chairs and other equipment for people with physical disabilities, Jeff Bochner said.

The store has retained a loyal customer base with people traveling from all over the city, Nassau County, Westchester, and as far as Philadelphia for repairs or new equipment, he said, calling the business a “mobility center.”

Though the business has drastically changed since the 1950s, some remnants from that era still remain. Bochner still has a General Electric clock from that time period, which has a face with drawings of a prim and proper woman from the era who is vacuuming. His father also kept the receipt from the first wheelchair he ever repaired in the late 1960s, which was for $45. To purchase a new wheelchair today can cost as much as $40,000, he said.

Asked how he felt about leaving the Flushing store, Jeff Bochner said, “Life goes on. To get sentimental about a store is somewhat irrelevant. It’s sentimental for my dad more than me, but he is ecstatic at the growth of the company and the passing of the torch.”

Reach reporter Brendan Browne by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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