Bernie Sominski closed his Metamora business permanently on Saturday after more than 65 years of selling and servicing sewing machines.
When asked what’s next, he described a lot of clean-up work that will keep him busy the next month or so, involving about 100 used sewing machines he plans to strip down so he can sell the parts to an interested dealer. The 86-year-old owner of Domestic Sewing Center on East Main Street in Metamora, who could often be found in his shop during off-hours as well, is shuttering the business and leaving his treasured livelihood behind with some regret.
“I’m going to miss it all,” he said. “I really wish I didn’t have to, I really do. But there’s a time comes for everything.”
It’s also a blow to the village, which has now lost one of its bastions of hometown pride and reliability.
Sominski’s love of the sewing machine business was born of his dislike for another career. His working life began during high school at Dale’s Sohio Service in Chrissy, a community near Holland, Ohio. After graduating, Sominski realized a friend was making better money at the former Toledo Desk and Fixture factory in Maumee, and joined him there. But after six months “I knew I did not want to do that all my life,” he recalled.
So Sominski asked his friend Lewis Conn, a sales manager at Electro Hygiene Sewing Machine in Toledo, for a job. He was trained there in sales and service but still wanted more. After about two years he and Conn left the company and opened their own sewing machine shop in the city in 1958. Sominski was 22 years old.
“It just looked like we could make more money,” he said, laughing.
While they found success, “after a about a year or two I said, ‘We’re doing quite a lot of business; however, at the end of the year the bottom line is not what it should be. There’s just not enough here for two of us.’”
Sominski bought out Conn’s ownership, then set a plan into motion to purchase a White Sewing Center shop in Monroe, Mich., from the retiring owner. He contacted the parent company and was granted the franchise for the county.
After 10- and 12-hour days, Sominski, who lived in Metamora, opened another White Sewing Center store in Adrian, then one in Hillsdale, hoping to open a store in each county seat in Michigan. His next target was Coldwater, but it proved to be too much.
“Monroe, Adrian, and Hillsdale was about all I could handle. I (realized) I was trying to get too large. So I decided I was going in the wrong direction,” he said.
Sominski sold the Monroe and Adrian stores, and closed the Hillsdale location when he couldn’t find a buyer. It was 1967, and he decided to take his work home to Metamora. He built his longtime business, Domestic Sewing Center, in the village near his home.
“I always made a good living,” he said. That included selling and servicing sewing machines for home economics classes in school districts in Fulton, Williams, Henry, and Hillsdale counties. Sominski also hired Metamora resident Louise Gormley to instruct customers on using the machines they bought in his shop. When he made service calls his wife Shirley tended the store.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I like dealing with the public, I treat them fair, and I have customers where I sold to ma, grandma, grandchild, great-grandchild. A lot of families I did business with through the whole family, one generation after the next.”
Sominski also manned booths at the Fulton County and Hillsdale County fairs for over three decades, displaying and demonstrating the latest sewing machine models until 2000.
As for the machines themselves, Sominski is amazed at how they’ve evolved. “They went from just a straight stitch machine that sewed forward – did not even have reverse – to the fancy, large embroidery machines of today that are all computerized,” he said. “It used to be, sewing was pretty much a necessity of mending and darning, and still is to a certain degree today. But also the machines do so many different types of fancy work that a lot of ladies do that type of work.”
His nephew Larry Herrick, who operated Herrick Insurance in Swanton for 30 years, said over the 65 years Domestic Sewing Service was in business Sominski probably established hundreds, if not thousands, of customer relationships.
“He’s a very personable guy, he’s fun to be around,” Herrick said. “He goes out there every day and tries to take care of the customers. He didn’t work normal hours. His energy is amazing. Working until age 86 speaks for itself.”
Unfortunately, Sominski said, his aged hands won’t allow him to continue. “But I enjoy working on machines…not necessarily do I have to work but I enjoy my work,” he said. “I get up in the morning and I’m all enthused. I think, ‘Oh boy, I gotta do this machine today.’ I enjoy taking something that’s broken and making it work again, and making my customers happy, and being fair and honest with them.”
A former board member, president, and chairman of Metamora State Bank, Sominski said he’s currently too busy with clean-up chores at his shuttered business to wonder where his life will lead him next.
“I don’t know what the future holds at all,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.