This Jefferson Boulevard shop can still fix a chainsaw

Oak Cliff Paint and Hardware has everything.

A wall-sized velvet painting of John Wayne, a rare 1970s touring bike, vintage bowling balls, refurbished lamps, golf clubs, boots and gas cans. Somewhere in the jumble, there is also hardware.

The store at 829 W. Jefferson is a mess of organized chaos. But that is not the star of the show here.

The magic happens in the alley just west of the two-story building on Jefferson.

That’s where Elijah Day, the owner of Oak Cliff Paint and Hardware, does most of his work.

Day, who is known as Mr. Eli, has been working on small engines there since 1974. He bought the shop in 1991, and he and his two employees fix chainsaws, lawnmowers, weed whackers and the like, a rarity in an age when those items more and more commonly are made to be replaced and not repaired.

When Day started at the shop more than 40 years ago, there was still a Rexall on the corner, and Jefferson Boulevard had already reached its peak as a commercial district. Red Bird Mall would open the following year, poaching the Sears store and other retailers from the boulevard, marking the beginning of a decline. Strides are being made in renovating Jefferson Boulevard. The 800 block isn’t being transformed in the vein of Jefferson Tower, but it has a strong mix of independent businesses.

Now there is a tattoo shop, a circuit-training gym and a little grocery and restaurant on the corner.

Day followed his then-sweetheart and now-wife, Bobbie, to Dallas after his service in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War.

The original owner of Oak Cliff Paint and Hardware, which has been in business since the 1930s, gave him a shop manual and a McCullough chainsaw to fix. He read the manual and fixed the saw, and he had a job.

Customers and buddies come through the alley, with its pleasant gasoline fumes, all day long to bring Day a job or just as likely, to visit. A pal who owns a landscaping company hangs out for his entire lunch break. Another buddy comes through on a whirlwind, offering beef ribs from Baby Back Shack and dropping a couple of jokes before taking off again in his truck. This is a hangout, but it’s also Day’s office.

He is working on a weed whacker, recalibrating the catalytic converter.

He pulls the start.

“Watch,” says Reginald Randall of Arcadia Park, a mechanic who has worked at the shop for seven years. “Most people would give up, but he’ll get it started.”

It took somewhere around 15 pulls, but Randall was right. It’s like Day has the touch.

“It’s a challenge,” Day says. “It’s a real good feeling when you can take an old broken-down thing and make it run.”

Parts are not easy to find, and frequently, the fix is not much cheaper than buying a replacement.

Day recently put the building, which has two apartments on the second floor, up for sale. If a buyer comes along, Day says, he’s not sure what he will do with the contents of the store.

While fixing small engines is his thing, Day is not as keen on selling his stuff.

“There was a guy who came in one time and asked about a painting that was in there,” Randall says.

Day asked $700 for it. The guy came back later and paid for it, Randall says.