Threading the needle: Repair shop holds on to fading business

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Paul Cox has made a career out of sewing machines and vacuum cleaners, but he’s not sure how long it’s going to last.

“It’s getting harder and harder to thread these needles,” Cox said.

But, at 57, it isn’t shaky hands or failing eyesight that threatens the viability of Short’s Sew and Vac Center on Goldsboro Street in Wilson.

“Sewing is really kind of a lost thing,” Cox said. “It seemed like after 2000 it’s really gone down.”

There was kind of a lull in the decline, and it picked back up again when people got into crafts, but fewer and fewer people are sewing at home.

“You used to have these stores like Piece Goods that sold material and thread,” Cox said. “Women would make dresses and stuff. Well, all those stores went out, so they couldn’t get anything to work with, and then it just kind of fell by the wayside. That generation of people got older, and it died with the generation.”

Cox started working as a 24-year-old for Norman Short in 1984. Short had established the business in the early 1970s.

“I come down here one Saturday and talked to him, and he hired me right on the spot,” Cox said. “He started teaching me how to do stuff. I have always been a little mechanical anyway, so he just taught me as things went along.”

When Short got cancer, Cox bought the business and has been there ever since.

“I never figured I’d be here this long,” Cox said. “I just enjoy doing it. It’s interesting. You meet so many different people. It’s good to meet people. I enjoy that.”

In a darkened shop crowded with Singers, Vikings, Husqvarnas, Kenmores and Necchis, Cox works under a fluorescent light over a workbench surrounded by parts and tools.

“Mostly, it’s just some kind of minor adjustment that’s out of whack on them,” Cox said. “Sometimes you have to replace gears on them, and that can get kind of involved. You want to go in there and tune them up, oil them up real good, clean up real good.”

Sometimes the machines are old, and Cox has to work a miracle.

“You get these older pedal sewing machines that used to belong to their grandmothers and stuff like that, and people just want them fixed for sentimental reasons. We fix those,” Cox said.

Vacuums, he said, aren’t made like they used to be,

“What they make now are cheaply made. It’s really not economical to work on one because you can buy a new one for $60 or $70,” said Cox, who has lived in Wilson all of his life. “We used to get a lot of Hoovers and Eurekas. They were the biggest ones, then there’s Kirby and Electrolux. Now they have got so many different models in each company. “Hoover has got like 10 different models. Dirt Devil probably has that many, and they are always changing them.”

Sometimes, though, especially with vacuum cleaners, there is just no way you can fix some machines. “You can’t get the parts anymore, and there is just no way you can fix it,” Cox said. “Everything’s plastic.”

Cox used to really like working on the older ones. He would completely rebuild the motors, put new armatures in them, new bearings, new motor brushes and everything.

“I had a guy who used to collect old vacuum cleaners, and he had one,” Cox said. “I can’t remember the name of it. It was an off brand, and he really wanted a motor put in it. And we finally got one in there for him that would worked. He was really happy about that.

“You could just about replace everything on it. They had parts for every part of it. You can’t do that any more because they don’t even make the parts. You just replace the whole motor now,” Cox said. “Even that, in some of them, they don’t even have the motors for them. You just dump the vacuum cleaner if the motor goes bad.”

Cox said when he first started working at Short’s, they had a real good business.

“There wasn’t a Walmart or anything,” Cox said.

But things have just changed.

“It’s affected it a lot,” Cox said. “I wonder if I can be here another five years because of that.”

Short’s Sew and Vac Center is located at 227 S. Goldsboro St. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday. The shop number is 237-6381.

“I’ve always enjoyed doing it,” Cox said. “It’s nice to be able to work for yourself.”

dwilson@wilsontimes.com | 265-7818