Imre Toth likes to fix things.
When the founder of IT Electronics retires on June 29, it won’t be because there is nothing left to repair — for years, if you had an electronic device with an extended warranty, Toth was the fellow who took the dispatch from Best Buy, or Costco or Panasonic, and who arrived at your house with his crew to do what we all want: fix what is broken.
Toth isn’t closing up shop because he’s out of solutions. In a culture where electronic devices are designed with built-in obsolescence, there will always be something to fix and, for Toth, a way to do it.
But the repairman, who turns 80 later this month, is ready for some time off.
“I am getting tired,” said Toth.
Toth was born in Sagat, Hungary, in 1942. That year, his father was forced to join the German army as a cook and his mother fled with the infantry. His uncle and grandfather were shot dead. In 1944, his father was captured by Allied forces. After his release, Toth’s father, a farmer with a Grade 4 education taught him the most valuable lesson of his life: Education was the only thing no one would ever be able to take away from him.
Toth became an electronics engineer, and at age 25 secured a work permit in West Germany. However, after two years in the country, his court application for full citizenship was denied. Toth, now married and a father of two, was devastated. Outside the courtroom, a young nun noticed his downcast expression, took him aside and told him she could arrange a solution. Did he want to try Canada?
“I had seen Expo on TV, and I knew that Canada was a cold place,” said Toth.
He felt that taking a chance on Canada was better than going back to a country where he saw no future.
The family landed in Edmonton. Toth spoke no English and his university credentials weren’t recognized, so he took a job working in the mines in Uranium City.
“When you don’t speak the language, you have to start somewhere,” said Toth.
He dedicated himself to learning English.
“After four months, the headache went away, and the tap opened up. It felt like water: the language started to flow,” he said.
Toth said he loved the freedom he found in Canada. He got his journeyman’s ticket as an electrician, bought his first car, and took his family on a holiday to B.C. There, he secured a job working as an electronics repair specialist for Magnasonic, and later for Toshiba.
“I never looked back,” said Toth.
In 1979, he started his own business.
“At that time, people valued their products, even that little clock radio was a very valuable piece of machinery — it woke you up in the morning! Everything came with a warranty. We repaired 8-tracks, then we imported the first cassette converters to convert 8-tracks into cassettes,” he recalls.
Toth became a valuable asset to electronics buyers such as Panasonic and Yamaha, travelling often to Asia to help evaluate and select products for his clients. Although he made his living on repairs, he chose things that were built to last.
His shop at the corner of Kingsway and Imperial with its iconic lightning-bolt sign was a bustling hub, with an employee roster of 35, and specialists in VCRs and CD players — there was even someone who did nothing but camcorders.
“It was just fun,” said Toth.
Toth is looking forward to retirement, to travelling with his wife, and spending time with his children and grandchildren.
When he thinks back to that moment of despair outside a German courtroom, and the young nun who helped him begin the journey to fix things in his life, the lesson is simple.
“The help came to me when I least expected it,” he said. “Follow your dream and don’t give up.”
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