The Watch Man calls it quits – but store to continue ticking...

          Time is on his side.  Lot’s of  it.  That’s what happens when you retire.  You can throw away your watch.

         Ray Lindstrom is throwing away over 20,000 watches.

         Lindstrom, a.k.a.,  “The Watch Man” is calling it quits after 13 years overseeing his corner of commercialism within the Riverside Resort – The Watch Man Store.  Oh, the store isn’t closing. No.  That tradition will continue with the store selling watches.  It’s just Lindstrom who is calling a permanent “time out.”

         “It was only going to be there (at the Riverside) for 11 weeks,” Lindstrom said while packing up his office on his last day as the owner of the Watch Man store.  “First, I had this idea about selling some watches out of a casino.  I figured it had to be better than in a mall – there are new people coming in all the time.  So I went to the executives at the Riverside in October 1993 – just before Christmas – with my proposal.

         “We were successful from the day we opened.  People went crazy – and I quickly knew it would be doubly crazy to stop.  I was excited and I decided to take this as far as it would go.”

         Thirteen year’s later worth.

         “We had stores all over Nevada – in Tahoe, McCarren Airport, a location on the Strip in Vegas, in Mesquite, a free-standing store on Fremont Street – some did better than others.  The strange thing is, our Laughlin store was the most popular.  We couldn’t duplicate our success anywhere else but here in Laughlin.”

         During his run as the iconic “Watch Man” – replete with superhero leotards and Bucky the Watch Dog companion – Lindstrom gained some notoriety for not only his store but the Riverside Resort and Laughlin in general.

         The store made the cover of National Enquirer and the Sun; he was written up in Forbes Magazine (who dubbed him “The Sultan of Schlock”); People magazine sent a crew to his store for a photo shoot; “NBC Today Show” came calling twice; and CBS News with Dan Rather did a spot on the store.

         “CBS came here to do a story on the store and when their crew showed up in the morning they were shocked because there were 80 people waiting to get in,” explains Lindstrom.  “They couldn’t believe it.  But that was the way it was every day.”

         So what’s a watch guy to do without watches?

         “I want to give speeches – motivational speeches,” he explains.  “I want to write a book and I want to go out and do things that are not involved with making money.

         “When I was a kid in Illinois, I was in a hardware store and I saw this toy truck.  It was something.  The store owner came over to me and said, ‘I bet you’d like to have that truck.’  I said, ‘yes, I would.’  Then he gave it to me for free.  I never forgot that.

         “I’ve always liked to give things away for free.  When you do something like that, not expecting anything in return, for no other reason than a look on someone’s face, you get it back.  But I do it for a very selfish reason – I like the way it makes me feel.  That’s why I enjoyed doing things like emceeing the Boys and Girls Clubs’ awards banquet every year.  It’s part of giving something back.”

         The staff at the Laughlin Entertainer will miss Lindstrom’s willingness to pose for holiday photos every year, and the over-the-top wardrobe to match – red suit coats, matching red shoes and always, always a tie with some kind of watch design.

         Is Lindstrom sad about moving on?

         “This is the last day I’ll go in the store and point out a crooked sign or that watches are in the wrong place – or dip into the cash register,” he said.  “But this is like a graduation for me.  Thirteen years is the same amount of time a person spends in school before it’s time to graduate.  I’m graduating to something else.

         “Being here has been exciting.  It’s been home.  You get to know people and everyone here has always been nice to us.  I have to thank Don Laughlin for giving us a chance.

         “But I’m leaving the store in good hands.  Linda Welch has been the manager for 10 years.  She knows the business inside and out and I have no doubt she will carry on.  Also, my ‘Vietnamese Elvis’, Tien Nguyen, is also part of the next generation.  He’s been with me for 13 years.  After knowing these people for so long, it’s like they’re your kids.”

         But Lindstrom is not completely gone.  After all, you can’t have a store called “The Watch Man Store” without at least the image of a “Watch Man”.  So Lindstrom’s likeness will still be the store’s “hook” in ads and promotions.  It’s kind of like Colonel Sanders and the whole Kentucky Fried Chicken thing.

         But the next watch Lindstrom will wear – one of his own design – is a retirement watch, with no hands.

(From The Entertainer section of The Mohave Valley Daily News)