A Waning Art Blossoms in Riverhead

Seamstress Jackie Rios on the job. Photo by Nick Chowske
Seamstress Jackie Rios on the job. Photo by Nick Chowske

In today’s consumer-driven world, it can be hard to find products, particularly clothes, that are made to last, and it can be even harder to find someone with the skills to keep them in good shape. Luckily, one East End business can help.

For over 50 years, the Southampton Vacuum and Sewing Center has not only been selling and repairing vacuum cleaners and sewing machines, but they’ve also had an onsite tailor at their Riverhead location.

“We do pretty much any repair that is needed—hemming pants or taking in a shirt, up to altering a wedding dress,” said Kelly Kossman, who manages the two stores that her father, Gary Kossman, owns. “I started coming here when I was little,” she said. “I would dust machines for $5 and then go spend it at the Fudge Company.”

Kossman began working at the shop full-time when she was 19, and she has seen interest in sewing drop off. “Vacuum cleaners have grown to probably 90% of our business and sewing machines are almost nothing,” she said. “Nobody sews anymore. You can’t get the supplies…It just doesn’t pay.”

With interest in sewing waning, there are fewer people who do it professionally. So, when Kossman’s long-time seamstress left the business suddenly, she had to scramble to find a skilled replacement. “It’s difficult because people just don’t know how to do things like that anymore,” she said. Kossman used a modern approach to find someone skilled in an age-old profession. “I actually found most people on Craigslist,” she said. That’s how she met Jackie Rios, who has been working in the fashion industry for nearly 20 years. “She had an ad on Craigslist that [said] she wanted to make custom dresses,” Kossman said. “It’s one thing to have sewn your whole life, but to be able to sew professionally and give somebody a professional product is different. I actually went through a couple of people before I hired Jackie.”

“I’ve always liked sewing,” Rios said. “It all started, because I am a petite size, and I always had a hard time finding things that fit right, so I just started fixing things myself.” Rios moved from the Dominican Republic to go to fashion school in New York, and then became a pattern-maker and a seamstress.

For the last few weeks, Rios has been working with another skilled tailor, Rosanna Tromba, who helps out at the shop. “She’s the expert—she’s been sewing forever,” Rios said.

“I love to do it,” said Tromba, who moved to Long Island from Italy. She started sewing when she was 14, and hasn’t stopped yet. “I was born in Africa, and my father used to own a leather-goods store,” she said. “In the afternoon, they closed the store, like a siesta, and I used to get the lining of the suitcases from my father to make pocketbooks.”

The Riverhead location does a lot of business in alterations. “Many people come in to replace zippers,” Kossman said. “Or if they’ve gained or lost weight, and they don’t want to change their whole wardrobe, we’ll take things in or let them out.”

The Vacuum and Sewing Center does alterations for both wedding and prom gowns as well. “We do all kinds of alterations,” Tromba said.

Unfortunately, even this specialized work now has to compete with a market full of cheaper alternatives. “It’s tough, because most people don’t want to spend a lot of money when they put a zipper in something or hem a pair of pants, but it takes a lot of time,” Kossman said.

“It’s really a dying trade,” Rios said. “Less and less people want to even be bothered by doing anything. Most people just discard it, especially in America.”


For more info, visit the shop at 31 East Main Street,  Riverhead or call 631-727-1550.

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