ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
His business may be tucked away in a little shop on West A Street in Hillsboro, but he carries an impressive distinction as big as a warehouse.
“I’m the oldest business in Hillsboro under the same ownership,” said Ray Matz, 78, of Matz Upholstery Service. “I’ve been here 57 years. That’s unusual for a one-man operation.”
And 57 is also the number of years he’s been married to wife Eunice, who Matz describes as “such a good companion” through all their years together.
The couple’s four children range in age from 46 to 56, and the Matzes have been blessed with seven grandchildren.
A Hillsboro native, Matz graduated from Hillsboro High School and one year later joined the U.S. Merchant Marines. In 1945, he returned after two years of duty and was faced with the decision of making a living.
“I didn’t know what to do that nobody else did,” Matz said. “So I thought, ‘Well, I’ll upholster.’ I had no training-nothing-I just started doing it.”
He purchased a Singer sewing machine in Kansas City and opened his doors for business.
“I knew nothing about it,” Matz said. “My mother had a chair. I covered it, and I rented a booth in the commercial tent during the fair. And that’s how I got started.”
The original location of his shop was in the back of a building on South Main.
“The first couple of years were pretty tough,” Matz said.
To supplement his income as his family grew, Matz eventually began work as a rural mail carrier for the U.S. Post Office. He held that job for 37 years and retired at the age of 65-continuing to work in the upholstery profession.
The locations of his shop changed four more times. In 1959, he moved from a barn behind his home on North Ash into his present retail spot on A Street.
After replacing a wooden garage door on the front of the building two months ago, Matz had space above the new, smaller door to put his name. But in all the excitement, he spelled upholstery wrong-misplacing the letter H.
A card came in the mail from a “concerned citizen,” who pointed out his mistake, Matz said. “I would like to know who that was, because I’d like to thank them.”
In the past he was also in the glass business. Until about 10 years ago, his business cards listed the company name as Matz Upholstery and Glass Service.
“I did automobile glass only-windows and windshields,” Matz said. “But these new cars anymore, the windshields are so large I can’t handle them.”
Matz currently focuses on upholstering furniture, such as sofas and recliners.
“I think I’ve covered just about everything that’s possible to be covered,” he said. “I’ve covered everything from buses to airplanes to caskets. So I’ve done it all, and none of it excites me anymore.”
But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t still learning about the trade he’s been in for over five decades.
“All furniture and all cars, every year, they come out with new ideas and new things,” Matz said. “You just have to adjust.”
His work day begins at 8:30 a.m., and Matz takes a lunch break at noon. Returning at 1 p.m., he works until 3:30-Monday through Friday.
“I decided I don’t have to work so many hours anymore,” he said. “That’s why I do that.”
In addition to observing the prices of fabrics skyrocketing over the years, Matz said the tools of the trade have evolved, too.
In the past, he used “spit” tacks and a tack hammer.
“I’d have a mouthful of tacks and the hammer-but now they have staplers and all that. They’ve just modernized all the equipment just like they have everything else.”
His slowest months of the year span from December to February.
“People don’t do any repair work during those months,” Matz said. “They don’t get out and do anything.”
But in late July and early August, the doors admit more people, and the phone rings more frequently.
“That’s after harvest,” Matz said. “I think people get a little money, and then they do a little repair work.”
His profession responds to the whims of the economy.
“If the economy is bad, furniture is the last thing people will spend money on,” Matz said. “They’d rather spend it on food, clothing and that type of thing. And this is an extra.”
Matz has never advertised, relying on word-of-mouth to bolster his business clientele. And his reach goes beyond the city limits.
“I pull from a big area,” Matz said. “I’ve done quite a lot of work from Kansas City, and even Wichita brings me work, because I’m so much cheaper.”
Charging between $12 and $15 an hour, his fees pale in comparison to other skilled professionals, who charge from $35 to $50, Matz said. To complete a recliner consumes about two days of work time, and a sofa can be finished in about three days.
“Salesmen have told me they don’t understand how I can operate in this small of a town,” Matz said.
“But I draw from a big area. In fact, the furthest I think I did was a lady from Louisiana.”
The subject of retirement has surfaced several times. In the past, he’s considered closing shop at the age of 65, then 70, now 80.
But Eunice quickly raised a red flag on that idea recently, Matz said. “‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Don’t even think about it.’ So I’m not. If my health stays good, and people are still happy with my work, I’ll probably stay with it.”
When he does hang up his stapler for the last time, Matz said he doesn’t expect anyone to take over his business.
“My salesmen tell me that this is a dying art,” Matz said. “Because the way furniture sells now, people will go buy new rather than fix it.”
For now, Matz will continue to follow in the footsteps he laid down 57 years ago.
“The most satisfying part is doing something and then just seeing what I’ve done with my hands,” he said.