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Kalamazoo business closes its doors after nearly 70 years

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Chriss Laing helping one of his last customers.{ }Kalamazoo MI, May 21 ,2020 (Ray Hole/ WWMT)

Kalamazoo lost a 68 year staple of the community when Laing's TV locked its doors for the last time Thursday, May 21, 2020.

Laing's TV owner Chriss Laing was born into the business of selling, installing and repairing televisions at a time when many Americans families were purchasing their very first television sets. The 66-year-old Laing was raised on the second floor of the original location first opened by his father, Jeff Laing, in 1952, just two years after WWMT predecessor WKZO first signed onto the air.

"They always were trying to keep me busy," said Laing, "My dad used to store the old floor models that people had left here that hadn't gotten fixed, and I remember he used to give me a box and he'd say go out in that garage he said and look at the dates on there, if they've been there for more than two years he said bring me the slips as you junk em. I want you to take the back off and pull all the tubes out. So I was pulling tubes and man that'd keep me busy for a long time."

Learning the trade along side his father Laing's first job around the shop was actually tearing apart old televisions for their components.

"When I got done pulling tubes out, him and one of the other guys would take the sets outside and then they'd give me a hammer and I could tear em all apart! For a kid it was wonderful! It was a fun thing to do," Laing said.

He said he really developed a passion for the trade in the 1960's when one of his father's employees took him under his wing and taught him the more technical aspects of the trade.

Laing continued working for his father through high school and into college. He attended Kalamazoo Valley Community College from 1973 to 1975, and after a summer internship with Motorola, he continued helping run the family business, and bought it from his father in 1993 at its current location on Balch Street.

While he said he always enjoyed the job, his favorite part was going to customers' homes for service calls.

"Lot's of people that you just make happy when you go out and they're frustrated and they don't know how to hook up their cable box or it was hooked up but they were on the wrong input... and then you know you'd get them back on there and they're like 'Wow! He's got a picture already' ya know and they're tickled pink," he said.

Laing said he spent his last day in business trying to sell as much of his remaining stock as possible, marking some the oldest items for donation to the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, preserving a small piece of broadcast history.

After working his whole life at the family business Laing had a tough time saying goodbye. Originally scheduled to close at 3 p.m., Laurie Laing, Chriss' daughter, said they didn't actually lock the doors until sometime after 7 p.m.

"Long-time customers and friends keep coming and my dad just keep letting them in," said Laurie, "I said, 'Dad we have to go home eventually,' but that's just who he was. He loved the job, He used to say he'd keep doing it until it wasn't fun anymore."

But after a generous offer from Whitley Memorial Funeral home and encouragement from his two daughters he decided it was time to retire.

"I'd probably keep going but I got an offer on the building that says 'you better quit.'" said Chriss.

Just because he is closing his doors, it doesn't mean he will be slowing down anytime soon. Throughout the day, Chriss gave his personal telephone number out to several long-time customers, promising to finish repairs he hadn't completed yet.

He also said he had several projects he looking forward to finally finishing at home.

"What am I going to miss the most? The people. I used to love, I used to love going to people's houses and setting stuff up. Especially at Christmas time. The smiles that you got. The excitement of the little kids when you brought a new TV into their house. That was worth every minute of it," Chriss said.