Wednesday, August 8, 2018

My Local Repair Shop: The Value of Old vs. New Machines

As I get older, it becomes harder and harder to tell my family what I would like as a birthday gift. Every year I get asked by everyone, "What would you like this year?" and I find myself having no idea what to tell them. I think we can all relate to this. First off, the things we really want become bigger and bigger, so they really aren't things you would tell a kind family member of friend without sounding very rude. Second, at least in my case, I realize there are fewer things that I really want around me. This is compounded by the fact that I recently moved, which always leaves me amazed at how much stuff comes with me. One of the things I was dreading moving was my ever growing collection of old sergers and sewing machines. I think we can also all relate to the fact that the longer you sew, the more people think of you as "the sewing person", so when their aunt's friend's grandma's next door neighbor who loves to sew dies and they are left with a decent but not ~cool looking~ machine, they kindly offer to give the machine to you. I definitely don't want to sound ungrateful to those people as I've been given some wonderful machines, but in my case I just accumulated machines always with the thought of, "One day I will take all of these down to a machine repair shop and ask which ones are worth servicing and donate the rest." I had a big house with lots of extra space for last 5 years, so this machine collection just sat in my office and waited. And waited. And waited. A friend of my mom's who sews all the time had recommended a repair shop to me a while back, but still the machines sat as I had no idea how much it might cost to fix anything and my budget was tight. Put all this together this year just before my birthday and when people asked what I wanted, I had something I could tell them: a serger. I wanted a functioning serger in one way or another - my plan was to either to have the best of my lot of 4 older sergers serviced and fixed if any were worth the money OR buy the $200 Brother machine that comes up in every Amazon sale. So one Friday morning I loaded all of my sergers into the back of my car and on my lunch break at work I drove to Jim's Sewing Machine and Vacuum Repair in the Jumping Flea Market in Cocoa.
The machines I had in my car were: an 80s Toyota, a 70s Huckylock, and a mid 90s Babylock (I also had a late 80s Singer in the original box, but couldn't remember where it was in time to leave that morning). I drove up to the little building at the end of the small flea market (it's the only permanent unit after an awning with tables for rent) and talked with Jim. I told him my plan and he happily helped me take the machines out of the car so he could have a look at them. Before we even had the machines out of my car, he told me that the Babylock was the best machine of the lot by far and that was the one I should have fixed. So he looked at that machine first, plugging it in and checking how it ran, opening it up to see the condition of the inside. Then he mentioned that he would be glad to trade the other machines if I didn't want them (which of course I was thrilled about), so he plugged each of those in to check their condition to come up with a price. I told him about the machine I forgot to bring that I could trade, which he wanted as well. After a little investigation, he told me that he would give me an even trade off the cost of servicing my Babylock machine (usually $90 - $120) for the other machines. I was elated! I also brought along my main machine - a Singer Quantum Stylist 9960 - to see if he could also get my button holer working. He said he could do that as well, which I was thrilled about all over again. I've been borrowing my mom's machine to make button holes for over a year now as my machine would malfunction each time I tried to make a button hole. I asked if he wanted any of my other sewing machines in trade toward that service, which he did :) So to make my machine make button holes again as well as a full service and cleaning, he charged $50 and told me they would be ready in a few weeks. I left there so completely happy with my experience, I can't even tell you.
The next morning, I pulled out all my other old machines I knew I wouldn't use: the 80s Singer serger, a cast iron 30s model Domestic brand (but not a pretty one and it had mold all over the machine and the box), and a cheapy basic Brother (the one that sells for $79 all the time). I also had my mom's 80s computerized Bernina that had stopped working a month or so ago and she didn't know why - she wanted to see if Jim could fix it for her as well after I told her how happy I was with my experience so far. We had a similar exchange this time with him looking at my mom's machine and unloading the others. He said that because of all the machines I was trading, he would do a full service on my mom's machine for $50, which of course we agreed to. I think I left even happier, shaking Jim's hand and saying, "I am so happy I met you," lol. I now had cleared out ALL of the superfluous sewing machines and sergers I've accumulated (which is worth celebration on its own), I would have all the functions working again on my main machine, I would have not just a serger but a really nice one (Jim said my machine would sell for about $500 even with its age), I would get a lesson on how to use the serger when I picked it up, and my mom's machine would be working again as well - All for $100. I still feel like that was just the best deal ever. Were some of those machines possibly worth a little money? Sure. But have you ever tried sewing an old sewing machine that isn't something like a working tredle or a featherweight or a pretty color? Around here, it's nearly impossible, and if you can sell it you will only get maybe $25 tops. People just aren't as interested in sewing anymore, and if they are they generally want to buy a new machine that they know will be reliable instead of taking a chance on an old machine. So I genuinely hope that Jim makes a nice chunk off the machines I traded him. He provided a great service I couldn't do on my own in servicing my 3 machines, and he was so pleasant to talk to - he told me all about my machines I was keeping as well as lots of other sewing machine company info and much more. He definitely earned the money he will make on those machines, plus I can't tell you how happy he made my husband by taking all those machines out of our house, lol.
Jim called me less than a week later - he had fixed my sewing machine :) He knew I would want that back first as it was my main machine, so he got it done quickly for me. When I went to pick it up, he sat me down with the machine and had me test it out so that I could see that everything was working well. He had also cleaned it up all over, so while I've only had this machine a few years, I noticed how nice and shiny it all looked. He also told me that my needle threader wasn't working - I just figured I didn't know how to work it, so I gave up and kind of forgot about it to be honest. Turns out the threader was all bent up and probably had come to me that way (which he said the button hole problem was caused in the factory when they tightened a screw so much that he had to use pliers to turn the screw driver to get it out) - looks like it's not always better to buy a new machine, I guess. He replaced my needle threader right then for $10 and showed me how it works. I had the same experience when I picked up my mom's machine a week later - he sat me down to let me test his work and explained what the issue was and how to avoid it in the future. My mom was just happy to have a light on the machine again, lol. He called me a little over a week after that to say that my serger was ready, so I took a lunch and went to his shop. Not only did the machine work great now - it also looked better than I thought it could. He said that the previous owner hadn't been very kind to the machine and the timing was off everywhere. But he worked his magic and told me all about the machine. It's a Babylock BLSE300, which was the Special Edition model and it included the Quick Thread System, which was completely new at the time. He sat me down and showed me a copy of the closest manual he could find to my machine (which he gave me) and then walked me through how to thread it, change needles, change stitch length, etc. All the basics. Then he asked if I had any other questions, and I asked him about how to set up the machine for flat lock, narrow rolled hem, and more. No joke - he sat with me for 2 hours just answering my questions and teaching me how to use my machine. I left there with a huge smile on my face and a fully functioning serger (that I could use) at long last.
I know this is a long post, but I write all this about my experience not only to give huge praise to a great repairman, but also to encourage others to think about a local business before buying new. We live in an world where most people think that things are completely disposable - when something breaks, you throw it away and get a new one. Regardless of our individual feelings about the environmental aspect of this waste, I think we can all agree that it is wasteful of money. A while back we had a flat screen tv that belonged to my grandma years ago. It had red lines all through the display, so I was going to throw it away. My husband decided he could try to fix it. He went to an electronics store and bought 2 new capacitors for $0.75 each, soldered them in, and we now have a larger television in our living room that has worked great ever since. Would it have been "easier" to just toss that tv and buy a new one? Probably. But I would've been $600 poorer. I think we are in an odd mindset right now - we are so attracted to the "convenience" of places like Amazon (not that I don't love them, I shop there too) that we forget about the convenience to our wallets and the help we can give our own community by shopping local, getting things repaired, or making do and mending. I think the sewing community can appreciate this idea more than the average non-sewer, but even in our crowd we are more likely to buy the newest machine with a few cutting edge bells and whistles than pay to fix a solid work horse with a broken piece that will last for decades while that newer plastic filled machine will be overworked and breaking down in a few years. Sure, sometimes things aren't worth fixing, but that's where the expertise of a local expert can really benefit us as the consumer. I didn't just get my machine fixed from Jim - I learned that I had a really good machine and what made it special, I learned who actually made my Singer Quantum Stylist (hint - it's not Singer - they contract it out), and I was told what features are added just to get you to spend the money on a new machine instead of keeping your perfectly fine old one (this was very interesting and he had several machines in his shop that were only a few years old that were sold to him because their owners wanted the latest and greatest). I also gained a new friend and now have a great relationship with a skilled repairman that I can go back to as long as he is in business with any issues I may have on any of my machines. You can't get that kind of relationship from a place like Amazon, you know? Not that I'm vilifying them (Amazon, I love you) - it's just so nice to know that you have a real person to help you and a place you can go back to with questions or concerns and it's even better that the person has delivered on all the promises they made so you know they are trustworthy and can back up their claims. That type of trust is really a wonderful thing and it will keep me going back to him (and therefor purchasing from him - a mutually beneficial relationship) for years to come.

I'm now having a blast using my serger (my first one ever - I'm so excited!). I'll do a review on my machine once I've had it a little longer and get to know it better. This was a really great birthday present and I am so glad it all worked out this way.

If you live in Brevard County, I can highly recommend you go to Jim for your sewing machine service needs. He doesn't have a website and his shop is open air, but he does post on Craigslist every week (here is a link with his address). As a fellow small business person, I know how valuable word of mouth can be, so I just wanted to put that out there if any of you find yourself needing a repair or if you're in the market for a rebuilt older machine. He gives a lesson with every machine and he guarantees his work for a full year. You really can't beat that :)

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