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Q and A with Harvey Fink

by: l.E. BASKOW, In a rare restful moment, Harvey Fink of Fink’s Luggage and Repair Co. reflects amid the suitcases and bags in the shop now run by his son, Alex. He says, “I work harder now for nothing than I did when it was mine.”

Harvey Fink doesn't deny that he's grumpy occasionally. OK, maybe more than occasionally.

Fink is the sometimes irritable character who started Fink's Luggage and Repair Co., 517 S.W. 12th Ave., 30 or 35 years ago. He can't remember which. And besides, what's the point of looking backward, he says.

However many years, luggage has been Fink's life. Every morning he gets up early so he can be at Portland International Airport by 8 a.m. to pick up the airlines' damaged bags and drop off the bags that his shop has repaired. He used to go out to the airport to repair bags for customers between flights, but, hey, the man's 75 now. Give him a break.

Fink supposedly has retired. The store and a new one in Hillsboro belong to his son, Alex. But retired? 'I work harder now for nothing than I did when it was mine,' he says.

As for the grumpiness, Fink says he knows how customers perceive him. 'He's a grouchy old man, but he does good work and he's honest,' Fink says. He has no trouble with that.

Portland Tribune: You're actually quite an upbeat fellow. What's with the attitude?

Harvey Fink: The reason I was a grouch is I have a wife and three kids to support, and I worked hard. I worked seven days a week. I worked evenings. Nothing happens by itself. People only see you where you are now. They don't see what it took to get there.

Tribune: This is a real old-fashioned shop, and yet you seem to thrive. What's the secret?

Fink: I had a guy come in, and he wanted to know if I could fix his zipper. He said, 'How long is the wait?' I said I could do it right now. He asked, 'How much?' I said, '$6.50.' He said, 'I was just at one of your competitors, and they wanted $9.50 and I had to leave it three days.'

The man came back a week later and bought $1,000 worth of luggage. He said, 'If your repairs are reasonable, it goes beyond saying your prices must be reasonable.'

Tribune: But there must be some customers who aggravate you, right?

Fink: I had a couple come in, and they work on you in teams. A family. This was not done and that was not done and then they wanted a new bag. Finally I got so upset I threw the bag on the floor and stomped on it. They thought I was a madman. I jumped up and down on it and said, 'Go.' They thought I'd probably kill them. They left.

Tribune: Any other favorite customers?

Fink: A priest came in. He had a gold Samsonite Streamlite. And I looked at it, I said, 'Gee, Father, that bag's older than both of us put together.' He wanted a new bag (after an airline damaged it), and he'd put down it was three years old.

He said, 'You can't repair it - can you replace it?' I looked at him and said, 'Father, you of all people, how can you claim it's three years old?' And he said, 'Well, somebody gave it to me three years ago.' I said, 'Father, come hell or high water I'm going to repair this. I'm not going to put in to replace it.'

Tribune: Calling a man of the cloth's bluff. What happened?

Fink: He apologized, and I repaired.

Tribune: The neighborhood up here isn't the best. You had somebody throw a brick through your window recently. Is a luggage store a good choice for a thief?

Fink: Yeah. You wouldn't have to carry it. They're just about all on wheels.

- Peter Korn