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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Raymond-Prinsburg News

Viewpoints
The new girl in town
By Laura Prosser

By Laura Kay Prosser If you don’t know tinkering Merlin Arends then you clearly haven’t had car problems in Raymond. Merlin and his wife Lois run the repair and gas station off of Spicer Ave. It will be 40 years this November. It has no signs and it has no advertising. It doesn’t even really have a business name, yet there it stands and by word of mouth, everyone calls it Merlin’s Repair. “It’s just like any other job,” Merlin said his navy work pants stained with only mechanics know what and 70 years worth of wrinkles on his face. “We make a living here.” Merlin started in Raymond in 1972 when he and his brother bought a tractor and truck repair shop next to where his shop resides now. “We worked on farm tractors, and trucks, cars and all that kind of stuff. You know mechanic work,” Merlin said. “Sixteen years and one week they were in that place,” Lois said. In 1988 that business, H&M Repair, burned down. “This place was open at the time and Tom Goeman was the one who owned it. He said ‘we’d like to have you come over here and work’ and we’ve been here ever since,” Merlin added. “After the fire we weren’t sure what we were going to do. Three weeks after the fire we were in here, working again,” Lois said. Merlin moved into the building owned by Goeman in 1988. We run it the way we want to run it. They’ve never told us you can’t do this or you can’t do that,” Merlin said. The business is a lot smaller than H&M Repair was and Merlin and Lois are limited to what they can take on. No longer does Merlin tinker with tractor repair or big trucks. “I’m getting old enough now that I don’t care to anyway,” Merlin laughs as the bell rings, a customer pulls in and Lois goes out to pump gas. “There’s a lot of new cars I don’t even work on because there are too many gadgets on them that you have to have so much equipment for,” Merlin said. The shop tends to stick to small repairs and not big overhauls. “We only have one hoist in here so if you have to redo a whole transmission it takes a lot of time and then we have to turn down a lot of small jobs,” Merlin said. Picking mainly light work jobs doesn’t seem to slow down business though or the amount of jobs that need to get done within a day’s work. “We have three generations of customers. The grandparents started here and then the parents and now the kids in high school or right out of high school come here,” Lois said as she comes in. “We have some very loyal customers. A lot of them we’ve had for 40 years, they keep coming back,” Merlin said. People of the area will leave their cars for a couple days

Minnesota taxpayers are being asked to pay more to protect the union status quo
The tentative contract agreements negotiated by Governor Mark Dayton with the state’s two largest unions – AFSCME and MAPE -- include a two percent across the board increase beginning in January, as well as seniority-based step increases to eligible employees. For some AFSCME employees, this represents a 2.75 percent increase in FY2012 and a 4.75 percent biennial increase over the base in FY2013. For some MAPE employees, it totals a 3.5 percent increase in FY2012 and a 5.5 percent biennial increase over the base in FY2013. And that’s not all. Along with the salary increase, the unions and Governor Dayton also maintain what can only be described as free taxpayer-paid health insurance for their members. The new contracts total a $59 million increase in FY13, which is $13 million more than the automatic escalations baked into the current contract. Accepting the contracts would position Minnesota taxpayers to pay for an additional $174 million for contract costs in FY2014-2015. Having state employees pay some of their health insurance premiums like everyone else is far from unreasonable. Neither is asking for pay increases to be based on performance. Over 50,000 state employees do not pay a dime for the premium on their state health insurance policy. In addition to their free individual coverage, state employees are given dependent coverage when they pay roughly $130 a month in total to fully cover their family. It costs taxpayers nearly one-half billion dollars per biennium to provide these 50,000 enrolled workers with fully paid health insurance premiums. With a forecasted premium increase of 9 percent in 2013, Governor Dayton expects taxpayers to cover these costs rather than asking state employees to pay a fair share. The new contract also ignores pay for performance reforms recommended by the Minnesota Legislature. Preserving the status quo of rewarding employees for length of service is a poor proxy for employee value and performance. The Subcommittee on Employee Relations recently denied ratification of these tentative contracts. We encourage Governor Dayton to go back to the bargaining table to bring forward an agreement that rewards employees based on performance and requires them to pay a portion of their health insurance premiums. Minnesotans should recognize they are being asked to pay more for an unacceptable status quo and urge Governor Dayton to renegotiate the new contract. In the meantime, AFSCME and MAPE union members are operating under their existing contracts, which provide them with autopilot wage increases and continued free health insurance. Representative Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Employee Relations

Merlin Arends stands outside his repair shop waiting for the next customer he can tinker for. Photo by Laura Kay Prosser because of the tinkering magic of Merlin the Mechanic. “People will come in and he says, ‘Well I’m too busy to do it now but leave it for a few and I’ll get at it.’ Pretty soon he’s thinking about and then he’s going out there ‘oh it’s got to be this.’ Even if he can’t work on it he’s got it half figured out in his head,” Lois said. “I’m too used to doing something,” Merlin adds. “I like the challenge.” These days cars are more technical and not all things Merlin the mechanic magician can fix, so he sends them on to Neal’s auto shop and Neal in return sends work his way. “Now a days the only thing that stays the same is brakes and tires and stuff like that,” Merlin said. Merlin prefers working on the older models, especially Chevrolet. It’s not just that he doesn’t have the newer equipment. It’s because the older they are the more hands-on they are. “It’s just something he likes to do,” Lois said, “and we’re always busy.” The bell dings as if to prove a point. “As long as my health is good and I feel like I want to do something, I’ll be doing it. Eventually I’ll just cut way back and just do what I want to do,” Merlin said. He’s done it all his life. Lois laughs as she remembers him tearing up his cars and tractors growing up. “We never took anything on the farm to repair we just fixed it all right there,” Merlin said. And he continues to fix it all right there in his little shop on Spicer Ave. Tinkering as he talks with people while he pumps the gas or fixes their car. He knows at least half the town by name and now you know his. In Merlin’s words, after he pumped a customer’s gas, “I’ve done my job and now I can go home.”

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T hRee Buns
I’ve said before that I’m not really an early riser, though that’s changed with having children and the somewhat recent implementation of an exercise routine. One reason I will always wake up early is to shop. While this most often takes place in stores it’s sometimes in the streets, as this weekend when I made my annual journey to the metro area for a neighborhood “Festival of Garage Sales.” That’s what their signs say. My mom and her sister have been die hard garagesalers since I was born, and they introduced me to the concept. They’re bargain hunters to the core, and garage sales bring out the bargain hunters in droves. By 7:30 this past Saturday morning cars lined the narrow streets in this adorable old neighborhood in Hopkins, and people dragging wheelie carts or pushing strollers with no kids in them set out for their one-of-a-kind finds. In a sense, days like this can be worse than say Black Friday because no one knows what they will find really. They might be looking for clear vases, or tools, or baby clothes, but there’s only one of most things and if a person doesn’t get there early, the things she’s looking for may be gone! People can get feisty, too. I once opened a drawer on a side table to see how the slides worked, and a woman came and yelled at me that she already bought that. Sorry, Crabby, it didn’t say “Sold” on it. Calm down. To get the most out of garage sales, I think, people have to be hopeful they’ll find something they need or didn’t know they even wanted, and also know how much things cost in the real world. Since I am an avid shopper I have a pretty good grasp on brands, quality, and price points. This makes decisions at garage sales much easier, knowing if I am getting a good deal or not. In general I like to pay the price people are asking for things if it seems reasonable to me. My mentors like to offer less, as in “They’ve got $5 on this but I’m going to see if they’ll take $3.” Even a bargain is not a bargain for them sometimes. For as much as I like to shop I have rarely felt buyer’s remorse, except in reverse . . . I’ve often regretted leaving things behind but am almost never sorry I bought something. This definitely applies to garage sales, where I’ve driven home wishing I’d bought the thing I hesitated to buy. Last year a large, framed, kitschy painting of The Magnificent Seven (as in Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, etc.) caught my eye. It was $50, which I wanted to think about spending, and by the time I came back for it the painting was gone. The frame alone was probably worth $50, and I couldn’t find an unframed version online for less than $200. Doh! I have come home with a carload of good stuff, though, things we’ve needed or wanted but didn’t want to pay full price, and things too unique to leave behind. I’ve obtained a vintage wood and

and a Hurricane ®
leather office chair, nice golf shoes, hardcover books, and a lovely white soup tureen. One of my greatest finds is an antique sign that reads, “Street girls bringing in sailors must pay for room in advance.” I had to buy that. My main purpose for garage-saleing now is for kid stuff. It’s very cost effective, especially when having three kids the same age and needing three times the things to accommodate them. Clothes, shoes, books, and toys are especially easy to acquire at garage sales and are often in very good shape having not been used much. Even if they have been used a lot, some people take excellent care of things and they hardly show any wear at all. If things are a little used, so what? It’s just common sense to reuse certain things and not buy new. Kids don’t know the difference anyway. This weekend I walked away with two grocery bags stuffed with clothes for Axel and paid $13 for the whole works. Jeans for twenty five cents? Doesn’t matter if they have a hole in the knee, it would be there soon anyway. Perfect for playing outside, which my kids can’t get enough of doing. Last year I came home with a pile of “new” toys, including a police car and a tow truck. I paid a quarter for each one and they were a little beat up, but Axel thought they were wonderful and I was the nicest mom in the world. Best fifty cents I’ve ever spent.

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