Sew Right

This small business that sells and repairs sewing machines, also purveying fabrics, sewing notions and lessons, has only nine full-time employees, all of whom are over age 50. The Bayside, Queens shop’s repairman and teachers are renowned for their abilities, and Sew Right does all it can to retain them.

“It would be difficult to find a similar store with this much expertise anywhere else,” owner Steve Gruber said.

Jim, the repairman, has been fixing sewing machines for 30 years; they are shipped to him from across the country and sometimes even farther afield. School districts and Broadway productions send their sewing machines to him. Elaine, who at 65 is the oldest employee, is respected throughout the New York City metro area for her expert quilting lessons. She is a past president of the Long Island Quilting Society and a 17-year employee of Sew Right.

With so much experience, the staff’s insights on how to use the workspace are highly valued. When Elaine, who also serves as fabric buyer, suggested increasing the amount and variety of fabrics sold in the store, Steve took her advice. The change in merchandise led Elaine to also suggest a new store design that drew more attention to the fabric.

Workers are shown appreciation through bonuses, and some work on commission. Scheduling is flexible, and as employees start to think about retirement, they can dial down their hours.

They participate in weekly training to learn about new products and sales techniques, and they also attend outside training and conferences, including learning events sponsored by sewing machine companies.