Brothers Dan and Marty Schoenberg’s story really starts with their dad, Ramon. Ramon was a Design Engineer educated in Switzerland. Born and living in Argentina he ran a factory that built sewing machine components for Husqvarna AB of Sweden.
A day never went by without Ramon pointing out to his sons products that were well designed and quality built. He often expressed his displeasure with cheap items that did not function properly and were not built to last. His influence rubbed off and the boys followed in their dad’s footsteps.
Marty has always been mechanically gifted (his favorite toy was his metal erector set). He loved fixing his motorcycles and cars, and at the age of 18 he began his career repairing sewing machines for a store owner who was a friend of Ramon’s.
Marty started his own industrial repair business while also pursuing a career in firefighting. Among Marty’s many customers were The North Face, Nordstrom, and Levi Straus. His younger brother Dan had just finished college, obtaining degrees in both Aeronautical Engineering and Business, when Marty asked Dan to join him in business and start a retail store.
In 1987 the two brothers opened The Sewing Machine Shop with the goal of providing the sewing community with quality sewing machines and related products supported by world class customer service. Their combined technical experience of over 55 years and approximately 40,000 sewing machines repaired and serviced has given The Sewing Machine Shop in Walnut Creek, CA a reputation as the leading sewing machine retailer and service center in the country.
As sewing machines get more complex with advanced electronics and systems, the two brothers stay current, attending factory trainings and updating their tools and diagnostic equipment. Most importantly, they stay true to their upbringing and remember the lessons Ramon taught them.
My great-grandfather, Stypik Schönberg, grew up in the city of Krakow (modern-day Poland) in the early 20th century. His family owned and operated a well-known shop on Grodzka Street (one of the oldest streets in Krakow) that sold high-quality fabric used for making suits and shipped these fine fabrics all over the world. Stypik was one of seven children. Hd worked for the family business, but eventually went off to university where he was educated as a mechanical engineer. By way of an arranged marriage, Stypik wed Lily Freund, the daughter of a relatively well-to-do family that owned a factory in Argentina. Because Stypik was educated as a mechanical engineer, a provision of the arrangement was that the newlywed couple would move to Argentina and Stypik would run the factory.
The move to Argentina was a true fork-in-the-road event. Not long after Stypik and Lily set out across the Atlantic, the Nazis invaded Krakow and destroyed the family business on Grodzka Street. Most of Stypik’s family were murdered in Holocaust concentration camps, though a few managed to escape to Russia and other parts of Europe. There is some family lore that Schönberg kin refuged in middle-of-nowhere Siberia would miraculously receive a package of goods from Argentina, sent by Stypik. How he managed to locate them amidst the chaos of World War II, I do not know.
There are so many different angles at which you can look at historical events, even family history like this. Obviously, Stypik and Lily’s move to Argentina right before the war began was extremely fortunate timing. Upon further reflection, I think of Stypik sending goods from South America to Europe, and how those goods were purchased with money earned from running the factory. And now to tie this all together — the factory — what exactly did it manufacture? Unique sewing machine components for Husqvarna AB of Sweden, one of the largest sewing machine manufacturers in the world.
Down in Argentina, Stypik and Lily had three children: Vera, Ines, and my grandfather Ramon.
As the eldest child and only son, Ramon was destined to eventually take over the factory. When he came of age, he moved to Switzerland where he was educated as a mechanical design engineer. During his time in Europe, he travelled to England where he met a beautiful young British woman named Doreen. Doreen was apparently engaged to a sailor at the time, but Ramon stole her heart and the engagement was called off. She moved back to Argentina with Ramon, where he took over duties as boss of his father’s factory. In addition to manufacturing sewing machine parts for Husqvarna, the factory also began manufacturing a sewing machine called MADEX (real archive footage can be seen in the video above).
Meanwhile, Ramon and Doreen manufactured 5 beautiful children: Adriana, Martin, Tomas, Guillermo, and baby Daniel. However, when Marty was 7 and Dan was 2, political instability in Argentina forced the family to move. They relocated to Richmond, California in 1963, only a few months before JFK was assassinated. Ramon was hired as an engineer for a company in Berkeley that designed pumps and Doreen worked as a school teacher.
Living in the Bay Area with 5 young children, Ramon needed a second job to make some extra money and support his family. As a side hustle, he would repair sewing machines for the Berkeley Sewing Machine Company twice a week, on Thursday nights and Saturdays. Marty, still a young boy at the time, often came along with his father. Marty remembers how Ramon would put an old junker machine in front of him and hand him a set of screwdrivers. "Take apart everything you can," Ramon said. Marty did as he was told, disassembling machines into hundreds of individual parts. And so began the foundation of a skill set that would serve Marty well for the next 50 years.
In 1974 Marty began working full time fixing sewing machines for the Berkeley Sewing Machine Company. Years later, he invested in a van and some tools and started a one-man business called Sewing Machine Engineering that did traveling sewing machine repair. Meanwhile, Dan had recently earned his college degree in Aeronautical Engineering. He was on track to fly jets in the Navy, but an unfortunate stigmatism in his eye caused a change of plans, and he ended up working for a Kawasaki motorcycle dealership in Richmond as a star salesman. Marty recognized that Dan had a lot of charisma and was a natural salesman, so he recruited his baby brother to join Sewing Machine Engineering and expand. They rented a storefront in El Sobrante, CA and changed the name of the business to The Sewing Machine Shop.
In the early days of the shop, their business model was relatively simple: Dan sold new machines to customers in the market, and Marty fixed machines that came in for repair. At first, they primarily sold industrial machines. Although they no longer had a connection to their father's old Husqvarna factory in Argentina, they managed to sell a few Viking home machines as well. My dad has vivid memories of those early home machine sales. There was a lot more money in high-end home machines compared to industrials, and to close a sale on a top-of-the-line Viking back when the business was still establishing itself was a big deal for them.
Over the years, the business changed. Marty became a police officer and started working for The Sewing Machine Shop on a more part-time basis. He taught Dan the art of sewing machine repair, and together they became quite the dynamic duo, with Marty as an expert on the older machines he first started tinkering with as a child, and Dan an expert on modern machines with newer technology. On several occasions they have made the following claim with complete earnestness, a claim that may sound crazy, but that I believe to be true: there might be a technician who works for Bernina who has more experience with Bernina machines, or a guy at Janome who is more familiar on Janome machines, but if we are talking about overall skill as a technician-- meaning, if there was a sewing machine repair contest where we pick a random machine anywhere on earth, no matter the brand, no matter the problem, no matter if it's a serger or industrial or embroidery machine-- the two Schoenberg brothers are the best in the world.