By Cathy B. Koplen Contributing Writer
The Daily Star
---- — The sign over the vacuum cleaner and sewing machine repair shop at 5 Oneida St. in Oneonta still reads, “Ben Alkes Sales Service; If Benny Can’t Fix It Throw It Away.”
Ben Alkes Sales and Service has been at the same location for 53 years, and although Ben Alkes has been dead for more than 20 years, his daughter, Lana Alkes, is carrying on the legacy. She has been repairing vacuum cleaner and sewing machines for 30 years.
“It is mostly just oiling them and cleaning them,” Alkes said. “You should do that regularly and the machines will last a long time, especially the old ones. They are built so much better than the ones you get today. Those are all plastic, and when they break, you can’t fix them.”
People often bring older machines to Alkes to be repaired or cleaned. Many times the customer becomes attached to a trusted machine that they have used for years, Alkes said.
“Sometimes when young people bring in older machines it is because they have a sentimental value,” Alkes said. “They remember their grandmother sewing on it or cleaning the house with it. I always tell them to take care of those old machines because they will last.”
Alkes shop is filled with old vacuum cleaners and sewing machines waiting to be picked up by their owner. Some of the intake tickets were written by Ben Alkes.
“Yes, we have some machines that have been here since my father was here,” Alkes said. “I can’t sell them, they belong to someone.”
Recently a customer brought in an antique Pfaff sewing machine for repair. The black, cast iron machine has ornate designs and inlay. It operates with a hand crank instead of the usual foot peddle.
“This is really unusual,” Alkes said. “I have never seen a sewing machine like this before.”
Alkes grew up in Glens Falls, where her grandfather, a local tailor, expanded his business and went into dry cleaning.
“Just last week I was visiting my cousin — he is running my grandfather’s business now — and we went back into alterations and there were two sewing machines, a really old one that had been around since my grandfather was here, and a new one,” Alkes said. “I asked the seamstress which one she liked better. I knew which one she was going to say — and she did. She said she like to sew on that old machine much better.”
When Alkes first became involved in the sewing machine and vacuum cleaner business, she worked in her father’s business at night and on weekends while working a full-time job. Ben Alkes first taught his daughter to oil sewing machines. She found she had an interest in the machines and began to learn more about them.
Alkes began to immerse herself in the intricate mechanisms of vacuum cleaners and sewing machines. She finally quit her job and joined her father full-time.
In addition to the repair service, Alkes sells Eureka Vacuum cleaners and stocks accessories, bags and filters for many vacuum cleaners.