Lean on him

Jeff Gipson

Photo By Tom Angel

Unless you’ve dealt with disability or severe illness, or have had to replace a tire on a wheelchair, you probably don’t know about Jeff Gipson’s 27-year-old Chico business. Taking up several units’ worth of space in a pink, stucco strip mall on Longfellow Avenue is Valley Medical Supply, where you can find everything from syringes to shiny blue walkers to a couple of dozen different sizes of rubber tires for wheelchairs and scooters. Gipson not only sells the equipment, he’ll also repair anything (often making house calls) and handles warranty work for every manufacturer he carries. Not too long ago, the front window used to look like a Barcalounger showroom, with various “lift chairs” on display. It’s all scooters now (like the Pride Celebrity 4-wheel Gipson’s test driving above), but no matter the scientific advancement, just like everything else stacked high throughout the store, the lift chairs will never go away.

You took this business over from your father?

My father owned a medical supply in San Jose, back in the ‘40s and ‘50s. I grew up in the business and fell in love with the thing. He retired in 1963 when I was 13 years old, and I was not a happy camper—he sold the business that I hoped to get into. I started working on a degree in business administration [at San Jose State]. My father walked in one day and said there’s a little medical supply business for sale in Chico.

There was an existing business that you took over?

It was here for quite a while, like 10 or 15 years. A guy named Alan Gilke actually started the business on Mangrove when it was called Chico Medical Supply. He sold out to Sheer [corporation], and they retained him here, and then we bought it.

What do you do here?

I specialize in repairs. I’m mechanically inclined—I started working on cars—so I started working on autoclaves, microscopes, EKG machines…

What happens to outdated equipment?

We still [use] that too. There’s all the new stuff and there’s all the old stuff. We go back as far as you can go. I started dealing with EKG machines when they used tube technology, not computers, glowing tubes! This isn’t stuff that goes out of date. It just gets old. An old EKG machine, a veterinarian would use that, and you can always send stuff overseas where they have nothing.

I hesitate to ask how you’ve been able to stay in business for so long—it seems pretty obvious.

As long as people have medical needs. As long as the human body doesn’t change.