Sewing machines and vacuum cleaners don’t typically inspire romance, but for one Fresno couple they led to marriage and a bustling locally owned business.
Now the nearly 15,000-square-foot store looks drastically different. It’s a fabric store and sells and services vacuums and high-tech sewing and embroidery machines that can cost thousands of dollars.
It’s also a hub for sewers with near daily classes in its classrooms or a large event room.
Veronica and Ralph Hitter run Vac and Sew now, but it has a long history in Fresno. Ralph Hitter’s father opened a vacuum store in 1975, eventually adding sewing machines and growing to four stores in the area.
It’s become cool to sew.
Veronica Hitter, Vac and Sew
Veronica Hitter, from Florida, is the third generation in her family’s business. Her grandfather started selling Singer sewing machines door to door in 1948. The family eventually opened a store that her dad and then she ran. She had two stores in Florida that she sold before moving to Fresno.
Veronica and Ralph met at a sewing convention in St. Louis in 2007 and married about five years ago.
These are romantic words in their world: “We sold a mutual brand of machine,” Ralph says.
Before they were married Veronica would fly out for events.
“I just fell in love with the people out here, honestly,” she says.
She realized some customers here weren’t using all the functions available on their high-tech machines. The pair began bumping up their events and classes to educate customers about their machines.
By this time Veronica had sold her Florida stores, Ralph had consolidated his into one and the pair was married. The previous store was a few doors down from Big Lots in the same shopping center.
They quickly outgrew that space and began holding events – speakers, classes, etc. – at the Elks Lodge across the street.
Vac and Sew moved into the huge Hancock Fabrics space in October.
Now the store sells fabric brands that are not carried in chain stores. For example, the Wonderland collection has more than a dozen Alice in Wonderland themed fabrics with images like teacups and teapots from the book’s mad tea party.
Their website and a quarterly magazine list classes, ranging from making pillows with little bunnies on them to learning to use a 12-foot long-arm quilting machine that puts tiny quilting stitches in full-size quilts. Three times a year Vac and Sew donates fabric and volunteers make quilts in their event room for patients at Valley Children’s Hospital.
In a modern version of a quilting bee, many experienced customers come to classes for the social aspect.
“Even if someone knows how to sew they still like to come to classes and get to know people,” Veronica says.
And with shows like “Project Runway” featuring newbie designers, Vac and Sew is pulling in younger people interested in sewing.
$15,000price of a high-tech multi-needle embroidery machine
Sewing itself has gone high-tech here. Software can digitize images like a photo, a child’s drawing or a logo. It can be programmed into an embroidery machine that connects wirelessly to the internet and its 10 needles make quick work of the embroidering.
The machines sold here range from a basic sewing machine for $100 to a high-tech embroidery machine for $15,000. Many customers use the more complicated machines to run home-based businesses embroidering elaborate designs on jackets or onesies they sell online.
And of course, Vac and Sew still repairs vacuum cleaners, taking in at least 10 a day with four technicians working on them.