CONCORD — On the outside there's nothing particularly special about Western Vacuum & Sewing Center at 2031 Salvio St.
A small store along the north side of Todos Santos Plaza in Concord, it is often driven by unnoticed unless you need a vacuum cleaner or sewing machine fixed.
On a good day, maybe a dozen customers will trickle in. Other days far less. And some days even none.
But the one thing that's certain is the man behind the store will be there. Raees Iqbal keeps the doors open seven days a week. And he works nearly every day.
"Right now we are just trying to hang out here and make it work," Iqbal said. "I'm going to do everything I can to keep it going."
Western Vacuum & Sewing Center has been open in the same location since 1954. Iqbal bought it from the previous owner in 2003. Born in India, Iqbal comes from a family who has a history of being in the business of selling and fixing vacuum cleaners.
"It's great to be able to offer something that every single house needs," he said. "We give them good dependable vacuum cleaners to help keep their homes clean."
Ask him about the variations of vacuum cleaners and which makes one better than the other and Iqbal lights up. He'll pull hoses, spin rollers on the bottom and lift light ones over his head to identify the best. His favorite vacuum brand at the moment is Simplicity. He says the ones people find for less than $50 at discount retail shops barely work. They push dirt more than they pick it up.
"Some of them are expensive, but realistically you can get a really good one for $200 or $300," he said.
Iqbal loves his job, but he also is concerned. The past year was one of the worst ever for his business. One by one Iqbal has seen neighborhood businesses close shop. A 30-year-old trophy store at the corner, a tea and bistro restaurant across the street, and a popular Mexican restaurant nearby are all no more.
"It's sad to see some of these businesses go, but we are hoping this coming year will be better," he said. "This is what I enjoy and love to do, so I need to try and make it work."
In order to compensate for the tough times, Iqbal has tried to cut expenses, extend the working hours and focus on promotions that draw new homeowners are in. If he's not working, either his children or wife are manning the shop. His wife, Sadia, recently got a job at Ross to give the family an additional source of income.
Iqbal knows his company needs to be on top of the industry. Every vacuum cleaner brand that comes in, he needs to be able to fix. If a customer needs a part, it has to be on the shelf.
"We have to treat everybody like they're VIP," he said.
On Christmas, Iqbal had his appendix removed. Doctors wanted him to rest for nearly a month.
Two weeks later, Iqbal was back in work. It's been three years since he's taken a vacation, which was just a short stint to Disneyland.
"I have to be here," Iqbal said. "This is my second home."
For other business owners planning to get started, Iqbal says the first two years are critical. If owners can build a loyal customer base and need in the community, they have a chance to survive.
"The situation we are in now is not really conducive to starting a new business," he said. "But if one does want to start a new business right now, my best advice would be to make sure that you are really passionate about what you want to do and have a whole lot of patience."
Contact David Morrill at 925-977-8534
Owner: Raees Iqbal
Address: 2031 Salvio Street, Concord
Established: 1954 (Iqbal owned since 2003)