First do no harm (to my iPhone)

Midcoast iPhone Repair opens shop in Belfast
By Ethan Andrews | Jan 13, 2018
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Chris Quimby recently relocated his business, Midcoast iPhone Repair, from an upper floor office in Rockland to a storefront on Searsport Avenue in Belfast.

Belfast — Before a recent explosive snowstorm, George Farley drove up from Union to Midcoast iPhone Repair on Searsport Avenue to see about the broken speaker in the iPhone he had bought from a friend. “Evidently, it’s been in water,” he said, dryly, after the store's owner and Chris Quimby had taken a look inside.

Farley drives a plow, and on the eve of the ballyhooed “bomb cyclone,” he needed something to communicate with other trucks in his fleet. Quimby figured he could fix the speaker, but he worried about the extent of the water damage. Instead, he offered Farley a used blue iPhone 5C — an “upgraded downgrade,” he said — for $100. Farley had paid the same amount for his damaged phone, and his friend, after hearing what had happened, had offered him a refund. It was a wash. Farley handed over a crisp hundred-dollar bill.

Quimby started Midcoast iPhone Repair about three years ago, “just for hobby income, because I thought that’s all it would be,” he said. “But people kept coming to me, and it kept growing.”

After several years of working from his car and a small office in Rockland, he opened a shop at 22 Searsport Ave. last November. Leaving the generally wealthier clientele in Camden and Rockland was a gamble, but Quimby, who lives in Brooks, hoped the greater visibility of a storefront on Route 1 would make up for the loss of any old customers. As it turned out, people in Belfast break their iPhones, too, and many of his old customers followed him up the coast.

Suzanne Stone, who lives a few blocks from the store, dropped in after getting “a small amount of snow” on the already cracked screen of her iPhone 4. Screen replacements make up a large share of Quimby's business, but the iPhone 4 is old enough that Quimby often recommends people put their money toward an upgrade. He also realizes that a person's relationship with a smartphone often carries a disproportionate weight in the decision.

“For some people, a smartphone might as well be a part of their brain, or their arm,” he said.

In broad strokes, he said, younger people with less income tend to inhabit their iPhones, while older users may have "a more repentant attitude about it" and delay upgrades. Stone presented somewhere in the middle. The phone was mostly just a phone, she said, but it also had sentimental value, having belonged to a late relative. Despite being nearly obsolete, with a cracked screen, she was hesitant to part with it.

As with Farley's water-damaged phone, Quimby said he couldn't guarantee there wouldn't be other problems. After some back-and-forth, he went into a closet behind the counter and came out with a used iPhone 4. He didn’t know if it would power up, he said, but if it did, would she want it? Stone brightened at the idea and Quimby told her he would call her as soon as he knew if the phone would power up, which it did.

As the sole employee of Midcoast iPhone Repair, Quimby works on phones between conversations with customers. Behind the counter Jan. 3, a small desk-mounted lamp on a movable arm shone down on the guts of an iPhone, paused in mid-operation. The phone lay on a mat with a grid pattern that framed clusters of screws the size of deer ticks, poised either to be replaced in the phone or blown into oblivion by a stray puff of wind. Behind the operating theater stood kits of specialized screwdrivers and other tiny tipped hand tools and a heat plate for removing factory seals on some phone casings.

As a novice technician a few years ago, Quimby had unwittingly punctured the thin casing of the lithium ion battery cell and was sent running from the four-story office building where his office was at the time, praying that the phone in his hand — smoking and “spewing hot chemicals” — wouldn’t set off the sprinkler system.

With several years of experience under his belt, he said the work itself isn't especially hard, but it favors the patient technician. More stressful, he said, is the responsibility of working on devices that people often hold close to their hearts.

“I feel like a surgeon or a doctor,” he said. “I don’t want to say, ‘Sorry I hit their large intestine and they’re going to die.’”

Quimby mostly services iPhones and iPads. As compared with other brands, he said, Apple devices are expensive to buy new and replacement parts are cheap and widely available.

As a part-timer, he ordered parts as he needed them. But as business picked up, he reinvested his profits in an inventory of common replacement parts to speed his turnaround time. Often his customers have an Apple warranty but would rather pay Quimby for a new screen than send their phone away to be repaired for free.

The steady stream of walk-in customers Jan. 3 seemed happy to endure a small wait or a not-so-small drive. One came from Islesboro looking for a replacement screen for his daughter’s iPhone 6S. Quimby told him it would be $120. The man seemed delighted. He’d be back after the storm, he said.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.