After 40 Years, Southampton Business Still Going Strong

The Jobs Lane business has a sea of loyal customers.

For over 40 years, Southampton Vacuum and Sewing Center on Jobs Lane has stood strong, as other shops came and went with the seasons.

But through it all, Kellie Kossman — whose father, Gary, bought the Southampton Vacuum and Sewing Center first, after working there in the 1960s, before launching a second Riverhead location almost 30 years ago — the longtime family business has remained steadfast.

Originally, Kossman said, the Riverhead location was run by her father and uncle, Raymond Kossman.

But later, the locations became a father/daughter team. "I've been working with my dad since I was little. I used to come in and he'd pay me five dollars, and I'd dust vacuums, then go to the candy store to buy candy. I've been coming forever."

Now 41, Kossman said her father made her part owner a few years ago; he is semi-retired and spends a good part of the year in Florida.

Both the Riverhead shop on East Main Street and the Southampton location, where vacuums and sewing machines are sold and repaired, have longtime customers who've been patrons for generations.

"Especially in Southampton, there are customers who've been coming for years, because we've been there even longer," Kossman.

"They remember me from when I was a little kid; now they ask for the older lady," she laughed.

One of the best parts of the business, Kossman said, is the bonds formed with customers who come in and share conversation. "It's neat, watching people who've been coming for a long time. It's fun, people become your friends," she said.

In Riverhead, the shop has withstood challenges, as Main Street was hit hard by the development of Route 58 and longtime mom and pop shops were forced to shutter.

Even today, Kossman said, Main Street faces an uphill battle. "Main Street has become like a ghost town," she said. "Nothing seems to survive except for restaurants."

Looking back, she said, "Everything was pretty good until Swezey's department store closed," she said. Swezey's closed in 2003. "Once those buildings went empty, a lot more went empty afterward."

But now, Kossman said she sees the proverbial tides turning. "It's getting a little better."

And with the development of the Summerwind Square apartment complex near her business, Kossman said foot traffic could increase, although she said parking could be problematic.

Her own business, Kossman said, has remained steady despite the economic ebb and flow in Riverhead.

"We're lucky, because we sell and service," she said. "If people don't want to spend the money on a new machine, we're here to fix the old one. And when they want to spend money to buy a new one, we have that, too."

A good location near the traffic light, with lots of exposure also helps, Kossman said, as does the fact that her father owns the building, so they are not threatened by hefty rent hikes.

Kossman, who lives in Moriches, has a deep appreciation for Riverhead's rich history.

"There are so many beautiful old houses and buildings in town, and some houses that could be beautiful again," she said. "It's just a matter of time before things start to improve."

The town, Kossman said, has been "working hard" to breathe new life into downtown; she said the work done on the Peconic Riverfront to draw visitors is a boon for business.

Looking to the future, Kossman said while her daughter, now in college, has no immediate desire to sign on for the family business, her stepson Matthew, who has worked in the stores for two years, could be next in line. As for her daughter, she laughed.

"You never know. We all say we have no intention of joining the business, and we all end up here," she said. "This is a good business. It's done well for us."

With the changing times, Kossman said sewing machines represent a smaller portion of the business than vacuum sales. The Riverhead location sees more sales; Southampton has more vacuum repairs, Kossman said.

As for some who say crime in Riverhead is on an uptick, Kossman said it's never been an issue. "At one time, we had three stores, with a third in Shirley," she said. "With Southampton obviously being the upper class neighborhood, that's the store that was broken into twice — never in Shirley or Riverhead."

Once, Kossman said, the door was left unlocked in Shirley and a Good Samaritan went and sat inside until help came.

Crime, Kossman said, is everywhere, but while there was a time, over 20 years ago, when she was reluctant to work in the store by herself, "I'm not afraid anymore."

The most fulfilling part of her business is the human connections, Kossman said. "I really like to know that I'm helping the people that work for me to make a decent living."

Also, she said, "I like matching people with the right product. I love when people come in and tell me how much they like their vacuum. I know it sounds corny, but I like making people happy."

Of the job that's been a deeply rooted part of her life, Kossman said, "People come in and I talk to them — it's low stress, an easy flow. Most of the time it doesn't feel like work."


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