Napa Sew & Vac has reached 40 years in business this year, a landmark that came despite many hardship and trials over the years for owner Russell Moore.
Moore has faced the competition of Internet moguls such as Amazon and big-box stores like Target and Walmart.
He has witnessed the change of a culture that has reshaped the balance of his business. He lost a lease at his old location due to new ownership, a blow that reduced his revenues by more than a third.
Personally, he took a hit in the 1999 dotcom crash when his investments took a dive in the stock market. He lost his house in the 2008 housing crisis. And then between 2008 and 2010, he struggled with health challenges that he thought would kill him.
Yet Moore is still in business, selling sewing machines and accessories, vacuums and offering services 40 years from when he began.
He was even named 2018’s Napa Small Businessperson of the Year by Alignable.com, a social media platform for businesses owners.
He credits his resiliency to his staff, who helped him get through the hard times.
“I may not have gotten riches, but I am satisfied I performed for my community and provided service for my community all of these years,” Moore said.
Moore started his career at a Singer store in Napa, where he was born and raised. He was transferred to the Bay Area and worked at several stores there. Ultimately, he managed the Walnut Creek store until about 1978.
He was fired after a disagreement with a supervisor, but says it was the best thing that ever happened to him. Singer stores were beginning to close, and he started looking to open his own store.
Moore heard a sewing business called Bruning’s Sewing Center was for sale in Napa.
“I decided to move back and take over the business,” he said.
Moore started at Food City Shopping Center at Jefferson Street and Old Sonoma Road. When a new building opened up in Bel Aire Plaza in 1989, he moved the business there.
In its new location, Napa Sew & Vac grew to four times what it was at his previous location, he said.
But the dotcom crash hit in 1999, stripping him of his retirement fund. The business suffered that year as well because his customers lost money themselves, Moore said.
“It was a hard time for everybody because the tech crash affected a lot of people’s portfolios,” he said.
In 2004, his space came under new ownership and his business was forced out, he said. After he moved, he went from an annual revenue of $750,000 to $200,000.
“It was crushing,” he said.
By 2008, he was running a business with less cash and higher rent at its current location at 2477 Solano Ave.
That same year, he lost his home. He moved into his mother’s mobile home after she passed away.
“I supported my business with every effort I had,” he said.
Then Moore found himself so ill with giant cell arteritis that he had no strength left. At one point, he feared he was close to death and began preparing to pass his business to his employees so it would carry on after he died.
But slowly, doctors helped him regain his health.
Moore finds himself today still fighting to keep his business afloat.
When he started, women often made their own clothes. Home economics was taught in schools.
Now, sewing is a side hobby for a select few, he said.
Even by 2000, his sewing business represented half his sales, with his vacuum sales supporting the other half. Now, the vacuum side is 90 percent, while sewing has fallen to 10 percent.
Other sewing-related businesses didn’t survive this shift in culture. In Napa, Nor-Mar Fabrics closed in 2014, and Hancock Fabrics followed two years later. They left a void in the city, particularly for fabric, which Moore doesn’t sell.
“It was a blow for Napa to have those two business close, especially concurrently, because it left Napa without resources for sewers,” he said.
To serve his customers, he added some items like elastic, Velcro, buttons, and expanded other selections such as scissors and cutting tools. He has the largest selection of thread of any store in Napa.
Still, he couldn’t fill the gap completely, and the additional sales didn’t make a significant difference for his business.
“People are getting more and more used to buying things online,” he said.
To offer his customers the same convenience, he built his own website, where people can buy his products. He offers one of his premier vacuums, a Meile, for the same price as it on Amazon.
“We hope we can give people an opportunity to buy locally even if they don’t want to come in the store,” he said.
Moore has enjoyed working in the retail industry over the years, but it includes a lot of various responsibilities, he said.
“It’s an interesting business, and it’s ever changing, and it gives you new things you can do every day,” he said. “There’s a lot of hats you can wear.”
He has enjoyed the people he worked with over the years, both his employees and his customers.
“Our customers are terrific,” he said. “We’ve got the best customers we could have.”
He didn’t expect to still be running Napa Sew & Vac 40 years after he started it.
“I kind of did it one day at a time, and the days passed quickly,” he said. “I had a gas.”
Winning the Businessperson of the Year award was an honor after all he has worked toward.
“I’m proud of those things, and I’m really happy that I was able to accomplish those things in my lifetime, regardless of the monitory things I have achieved,” he said.
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