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HALF A CENTURY FOR AL'S VAC AND SEW SHOP

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Your Business

By Tyler Kula, Sarnia Observer

HALF A CENTURY FOR AL'S VAC AND SEW SHOP

The oldest business still standing in the Mitton Village, its owner says, turns 50 this year.

A lot has changed since Al Bedard opened his sewing and vacuum store in the once-booming Mitton and Wellington Street area of town, said his son and current co-owner Rob.

“We are definitely turned into a destination store in our location because there's not a lot of walk-by traffic coming in to window shop these days in our area,” he said.

But Al's Vacuum and Sewing Centre has a loyal following, said the 60-year-old Windsor-born man, who runs the store with his brother and business partner Mike.

Children and grandchildren of customers who first frequented the spot in 1964 still come in for purchases and repairs, he said.

“You thrive on service and people come here for service.”

The 4,000-square-foot space at 110 S. Mitton St., has moved three times in its 50 years — always to different spots on the same city block.

It started across the street when Al Bedard turned his experience as a door-to-door service and salesman with Singer Sewing Machines in Windsor into the Sarnia shop.

The operation was very small when it first began, Rob Bedard said, and it wasn't long until the business moved to the corner of Mitton and Wellington, beside the former Walker Brothers grocery and clothing store.

“It was a very, very busy corner,” Bedard said.

Expanding, the family business again moved 27 years ago to its current location, the former storefront for Hutchison Quality Floors.

Bedard joined the business at 15, working part-time in the back room repairing machines and learning everything about the business.

His brother joined later as the business was expanding.

One of the more dramatic shifts has been in what customers are looking for when it comes to sewing, Bedard said.

Today, the store primarily caters to machine quilting and machine embroidery.

“Thirty or 40 years ago we were more or less dealing with home (stitchers) for repairing things and making clothes,” he said.

Every model of sewing machine and vacuum cleaner in the store is high-end and sourced so that staff can repair it, he said.

“We don't sell low-end product at all.”

Two of the store's seven staff also offer lifetime lessons on all sewing machines purchased at Al's.

Anyone “can come in and find out anything she needs to know and there's no charge for that,” Bedard said.

And while a lot of product information is readily available online, he said, people still want to hear the opinions of sales staff.

“The big thing is offering customers the best product for the best prices and the best service that goes with it.”