Santa Nella resident Teresa Guzman remembers purchasing vacuum cleaner bags from Joe Ferry’s downtown Los Banos shop since she moved to the area about 10 years ago.
“He’s a nice, friendly old man,” Guzman said. “If I have questions, he guides me to the right direction.”
Guzman said Ferry’s Vacuum-Sewing Machine Hospital on 638 K St. is the only shop in the area that has bags and parts for Kirby vacuums.
But she will have to find another dealer after May 1, when Ferry closes up the one of the last vacuum repair shops in Merced County.
Ferry has been fixing vacuum and sewing machines and selling parts for 38 years. But after the ownership of his business’s building recently changed, Ferry decided it was time to close down the shop.
“There’s a new owner and he wants to do some renovations,” Ferry said in an interview with the Enterprise, saying that he may not be able to afford the rent on a revamped building.
However, Ferry will still be repairing vacuums and sewing machines by appointment.
Ferry will close his shop at a time when business is booming for vacuum and sewing repair shops, according to the Vacuum and Sewing Dealers Trade Association.
“Manufacturers have come to embrace us more than at any time,” said Craig Dorman, manufacturer and dealer consultant for the VDTA-SDTA. “It’s actually been quite a boom for us.”
Dorman said that 10 years ago, manufacturers would go straight to big-box stores. But since then, they have been partnering with independent repair shops to test out products and provide better service to customers through referrals.
There are still some vacuum repair centers left in Merced County, including Merced Vacuum Repair and Atwater Vacuum and Sewing Machine Doctor.
Those aren’t listed in the VDTA-SDTA’s dealer locator, which notes that the closest association member repair shops for vacuums or sewing machines to Los Banos are in Modesto, Gilroy, Oakhurst and Fresno.
Locally, Merced County is a tougher market for the business, according to Manuel Melendez, the owner of Modesto Vacuum and Sewing.
Melendez said he used to work at the old House of Fabrics store in Merced. But larger cities such as Modesto and Fresno were better markets.
“Merced was always a tough nut to crack,” he said.
Ferry said business was doing well for him. He repairs an average of 5 machines a day.
But it will leave a burden for people who have known Ferry as the reliable brick and mortar small business in town for repair and parts.
Ferry is known in town as the voice of the Christmas parade. He has also been elected to the Los Banos City Council.
Ferry, a Los Banos native, opened his shop in Fresno in 1983 after an award-winning career in radio news and serving in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. But he soon moved back to Los Banos to raise his family.
After a couple years at another location, Ferry moved the repair business into 638 K St., which used to be a beauty parlor before being converted from a residential property.
Markers of the building’s history, which spans more than 100 years, remain. The former porch was turned into an office space by Ferry.
Ferry also used to travel to off-site repair stations in Firebaugh, Mendota, Coalinga, Riverdale and Chowchilla, among others. But today, he just operates on machines in Los Banos.
The new owner of the building, Gilroy-based Joe Rocha, said most of the renovation he was doing was going to the interior of the building.
Rocha, who has renovated other buildings in Los Banos, said he still hasn’t decided on the details of the renovations.
“I’m going to do improvement to the interior, bring it up to code,” Rocha said, noting that there is time for the renovations and he isn’t going to rush Ferry to get out of the building.
Rocha said he will be seeking a commercial tenant for the building after Ferry leaves.
However, Ferry decided that May 1 was the day he will officially close shop.
“I’m just too old to move the store,” said Ferry, who will turn 72 in August.
When asked if he could hand the business to someone, Ferry said his children all have good jobs and he hasn’t had an apprentice to take over from him.
For Guzman, that means she will need to travel to a new shop, probably in Gilroy.
“It’s going to be a hassle,” she said. “I usually visit my grand-kids, kids (in Gilroy). So this is another stop I’m going to have to make.”
While Ferry is closing his physical shop and selling off supplies and parts, he still will repair machines off-site.
Ferry has worked a deal with JMG Fabric at 1044 Sixth St. to use the fabric, quilting and crafts store as a pick-up and drop-off point for people who need to repair their vacuums and sewing machines.
JMG Fabric owner Janette Gauna said the details of the partnership are still being worked out. But Ferry will be picking up machines that have been dropped off at her store.
“A great part of my ladies use him to fix their machines,” Gauna said, adding that it will be harder on her customers when Ferry closes down.
“It’s been nice to be able to (share) customers with him,” Gauna said. “The ladies need him. I need him.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated on March 16 to clarify that Ferry’s shop isn’t the last independent vacuum and sewing repair shop in the county.
Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562