PLEASANTVILLE — There are no oil spots on the floor.
This is not your typical auto garage, although it may look like it from the outside.
Inside the three-port garage on a recent weekday were a Ford truck and a white convertible — a worker was reupholstering the fabric on the truck’s worn-out driver seat; the convertible was getting a new cloth top.
“You don’t see many shops like this around,” said Bill Simpkins, 75, who started Custom Auto & Upholstery Center on South New Road in Pleasantville 35 years ago. “We fabricate everything.”
Employees work on sewing machines and with drills as they replace fabric that has been worn out, shredded or burnt by cigarettes.
“It’s a little bit cleaner business than the mechanic business,” Simpkins said. He runs the business with his son, Gary.
Automobiles are the main source of business for the shop, and convertible tops are its specialty. It also does residential and commercial furniture upholstering — from bar rails to restaurant booth seats to gym equipment — as well as boat covers and boat upholstery.
The work in this shop is meticulous. And the assortments of automotive fabrics — their colors, textures and materials — reflect just how big and diverse the automobile industry is.
Simpkins keeps old copies of the Detroit Book going back years. These compendiums are thicker than a Bible and detail the types of materials in brands from Cadillacs to Toyotas each year.
He keeps similar books that go back to the 1950s, although the newest years are the ones he uses most often.
Simpkins had operated his upholstery business in Atlantic City for years before moving to Pleasantville as casino gambling was coming to the region.
He said he was following customers, from car dealers to body shops, who were relocating to the mainland.
Simpkins said few workers specialize in this sort of trade. He picked it up from his father, who ran an auto top and glass shop in Mays Landing.
“It’s a skilled business, it’s very skilled. You don’t find people in this business,” he said.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reaffirms the specialty of the upholstery business. There were about 430 upholsterers in New Jersey in 2012 and fewer than 28,000 in the U.S.
After decades in the business, Simpkins still has a bright outlook on its future. He said the down economy of the past few years had little impact.
“We worked our way through the bad times,” he said. “Of course it’s not as good as the good times. … I see a good future in the business. Cars are never going to go out. You’ll always have automobiles.”
Particularly thanks to truck seats and other upholstery that gets heavy use, there also will be customers.
“We’re busy all the time.” For all the truckers and all your repair guys, carpenters, electricians, maintenance people, I have them in here almost every day,” he said.
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