In a way, the business began 60 years ago, with a narrow little Pennsylvania watch repair shop and a boy who loved clocks. His name was Julian Rose, and when school was over he would come to the back of his father's shop in Scranton to tinker, squinting down at the gears and springs, tightening, loosening, making things work.
By the time he was 11, Julian Rose, could tear down a railroad man's nickel-plated pocket watch and put it back together. He grew into a young man, a Depression-era dishwasher, short-order cook, seller of vacuum cleaners. His wandering brought him to Washington, and here in the basement of a Connecticut Avenue apartment building, Julian Rose went into business doing the one thing he knew well. He began fixing clocks.
His younger brother came down, too, and by 1940, Julian and Lyons were the Rose Brothers, timepiece repairmen to Cleveland Park. They moved across the street and took in antiques, but the business didn't change much. The customers grew older and kept coming back.
Then Metro arrived. Connecticut Avenue exploded into a frenzy of air-hammers, generators, dynamite blasts that rumbled up from underground. The rent on the shop tripled. And in these two weeks, with the last of the cameos and mantel clocks offered up on emptying shelves, the Rose Brothers are going out of business.
"We were caught up in the whole thing," Lyons Rose, now 62, reflected yesterday. "We're going to close up, and see if we can find some jobs."
When the Rose Brothers move out, the new tenant will be the Brother Sewing Machine company, a local sales and repair business that can affort to pay the new rent of about $1,330 a month. THe Rose Brothers had been paying $416 a month. The apartment building owners, Samuel and Mark Bensinger, say it wasn't just Metro that pushed up the rent. The shop "should have been worth more," Samuel Bensinger said. "We look around: we see what other commercial areas are bringing. Rents have to go up. It's a fact of life."
Or as Mike Morris, co-owner of the Brother Sewing Machine company, put it more simply, "Business is business."
The Rose Brothers know all that, and Lyons Rose insists that he isn't angry at the landlord or the company that will replace him. He just doesn't know what will happen now. He stands behind the counter, a small man in bifocals, and piece by piece sells off the last of the Rose Brothers merchandise: the crystal stemware, the porcelain figurines, the watch collection reduced mostly now to a few budget Timexes.
"We used to carry a tremendous stock of watches and clocks, mostly American," Rose said. "We used to carry one of the largest varieties of leather straps in the city. It was our specialty."
They fixed cuckoo clocks and grandfather clocks and elaborate old music boxes whose tunes had gone flat. The neighbors began bringing their antique silver and jewelry from estate sales, and the Rose brothers discovered that they liked old things, too - examining them up close, studying their histories, displaying them properly and sensing at the close of a sale that the original owner would have been pleased.
A woman whose husband had died brought in her Swedish crystal glasses, nine of them, with a terrier engraved on each. She said she could not bear to seel them to strangers, but that the Rose brothers would be all right. Lyons Rose thought about that for a while and then took the glasses home with him. He never resold them.
There was a woman who bought hand-painted china from the turn of the century, and another woman who bought only pictures of cats. The Rose Brothers bought a huge pump organ, and Lyons Rose's son Stanley, who also works at the shop, would play on Saturday mornings while the neighbors sand - hymns, from the hymnal one customer brought by, or silly songs from the turn of the century.
They sold the organ last week. Stanley Rose is 29, has a Ph.D. in medieval Spanish literature, and says he can't find a job. Julian Rose, now 68, says he thinks it's time to retire. Lyons Rose says he would like to work at the Smithsonian, in the clock department. "It's hard for me to put it into words," he said. "To see a beautiful clock running . . . I hope my age isn't against me."
A little way up the street, another shop has had its rent increased because of Metro, and other merchants on the block are unsure of what will happen to them. The rent at Ambassador Wines and Liquors, at 3529 Connecticut Avenue NW, was incresed last October from $475 per month to $950. Ambassador's owner says he fought that figure down from a request of $1,200.
The building owners say it's Metro's fault. "The taxes will be going up," said Florence Urciolo, one the owners. "I don't known in 1978 what it (the taxes) will be . . . and their business will go up more than it is now, that's for sure. I think it's fair."