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Tech support working to keep up with demand

  • Jeromy Patriquin, owner of Laptop & Computer Repair, checks a laptop at his storefront in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • Jeromy Patriquin, owner of Laptop & Computer Repair, outside his Greenfield storefront. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/8/2020 4:12:01 PM
Modified: 4/8/2020 4:11:50 PM

While working remotely is advised during the current COVID-19 pandemic, it’s usually only possible with a properly functioning computer.

That being the case, local technical support workers have seen a sea change of people moving from office computers that had been designed for their business needs to home machines that they usually only use for email, entertainment and shopping.

The transition hasn’t been smooth.

Conant Tech, a company based in Turners Falls that works mostly with businesses, was hit in mid-March with a “scramble” of clients in need of means to remotely access their office computers, said owner Scott Conant.

“It seemed like a lot of people got caught flat-footed,” Conant said.

Conant set up his clients with remote desktop software and made sure they could access their office servers, and by the end of March the surge in his business had tapered off, he said.

But if the wave of businesses’ technical needs had crested, a second wave of individuals and home offices was just picking up.

Jeromy Patriquin is the owner of Laptop & Computer Repair, a company with storefronts in Greenfield, Gardner and Bratttleboro, Vt., all marked with their slogan, “We’ll fix your bleepin’ computer.” His clients include home users, small offices and a handful of large companies.

In the last two weeks, since many large companies have shut down their offices and sent workers home with laptops, those larger clients have stopped calling, Patriquin said.

But a flood of small clients has more than made up for it. At the end of March, Patriquin had an unusual amount of calls for software updates and virus cleanups. Clients were going through their closets and pulling out old computers they hadn’t used in years, probably preempting their need to work at home, Patriquin said.

Then the calls for hardware repairs started: failed hard drives, broken keyboards and monitors, and a webcam that stopped working between video conferences.

There have been so many that Patriquin has had to prioritize the “essential” needs of workers and students, and has had to turn away clients with less pressing problems.

“It’s all based around people trying to work out of their house, whether it be school or business,” Patriquin said. “It’s nuts.”

In normal times, these would be fairly straightforward jobs. But most computer parts are made in China, where factories have been shut down for weeks and are only recently returning to work — meaning orders that normally take days to arrive now take weeks. On Tuesday, Patriquin went to every Staples he could and bought their entire stock of solid state drives.

“I spent a fortune,” he said. “My competitors aren’t going to like this.”

When he isn’t able to find new parts — which is most of the time now — Patriquin has resorted to cannibalizing parts from older machines, just to get his clients up and running with a workable computer. He’s cut apart old keyboards’ innards and soldered them into clients’ computers, and soldered together an entire power supply.

“It didn’t look great, but it was functional and it got them through,” he said.

And it doesn’t help that most of his employees are largely on paid furlough, which he said he did because many of them have young children and can’t coordinate child care anymore.

Patriquin said he expects some of his employees to be able to start working part time in the next few days. In the meantime, he is working seven days a week and dividing his time between his three locations.

“This is like taking a sponge, squeezing it until it’s totally dry, and then figuring out how to wash your dishes with it,” Patriquin said. “I can’t wait to have everybody back.”

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-930-4231.




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