September 4, 2006 – A tailor for a car: That's how Adam Kalloo, who learned to sew in his native Trinidad, describes himself when asked about his longtime job of upholstering vehicle interiors.
"You have to measure the material, make sure all the seams look good and make sure it fits perfectly," Kalloo said of his job of more than 30 years.
Kalloo and his wife and business partner, Kamla, do all the work in a tiny shop next to their home in LaGrande Princesse.
They have run the upholstery/auto glass shop since 1973 after Adam Kalloo decided to venture out on his own. Prior to that, he managed an auto glass shop.
"I knew enough about how it worked to decided to go into it," Adam Kalloo said of how his business got started. Kalloo also knew how to sew – a trade he picked up in Trinidad.
He initially opened as an auto glass replacement shop but soon ventured into upholstery, even though he said it was twice the work as being an ordinary tailor.
"It's harder than sewing a pair of pants," he said. "With a car you have to rip off the seat, separate the seats – if it's a bucket seat – from top to bottom and remove bolts and then you have to put everything back how you find it. It's a very tough job. It looks simple but it's hard."
Kalloo said that though the demand wasn't there where he started, the job has sustained him for more than 30 years.
And Hurricane Hugo in 1989, as bad as it was for the St. Croix economy, was a boon to his personal business, Kalloo said.
"After Hugo there was a lot of breakage, a lot of damage," he said, "and it kept me going."
These days, Kalloo said, business is mostly down, given the competition from other glass shops and from auto dealers which are now dabbling in auto glass replacement.
Still, he said, his business has continued to strive. He credits this to word-of-mouth by very satisfied customers.
"Once a customer leaves here they have to be satisfied," he said. "And, whichever customer I deal with, they would send somebody else – that's for sure."
Inside the shop, the Kalloos stock yards and yards of upholstery materials in vinyl and fabric.
In one corner stacks of sponges are sized according to its thickness and stored near various sizes of windshields.
Kalloo explains that he used the half-inch thick sponge for quilting upholstery. The thicker sponges he uses for padding car seats.
The work can be time-consuming but with help from his wife, Kalloo said he uses tricks of the trade to get things moving along.
In his shop tools such as heavy duty scissors, thread, tape, pencils and glue, about the same tools that a tailor would use, are stacked on shelves and within reach of two industrial machines he uses to sew the upholstery or make quilted patterns.
Kalloo said that each machine cost a little over $4,000 but that "these days it probably costs more."
The shop specializes in upholstering car seats, replacing carpeting and roof liners, as well as replacing entire windshields.
"In a sense, yes, I'm a tailor for a car," Kalloo said.
These days Kalloo is king of his domain and he goes about his work as if he's already retired.
"I don't work every day," he said. And, when he does, starting time could be 6 a.m. or much later.
For now, Kalloo continues to stride forward, always keeping in mind that his customers come first.
"I take pride in my work. That's the No. 1 thing on my list," he said. "When I take pride, the customer will always be satisfied."
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