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Sewing a Legacy

Upholsterers Pietro and Rino Petrucci reflect on 55 years of artistry together

By Melody Burri

Rino and Peter Petrucci have worked side by side for the last 55 years. Photo by Melody Burri.

One step inside the Petrucci brothers’ upholstery shop on Main Street, Fairport, and the vibe is unmistakable: maestros are at work here.

Equal parts fine art studio, mad scientist laboratory and Willy Wonka chocolate factory, the Petruccis’ sprawling workspace hums with creative energy.

There’s a lot to take in — a half-century’s worth of vintage sewing machines and precision measuring and cutting tools occupy every tabletop and work bench. Miles of technicolored, multi-textured fabrics and thread, webbing, stuffing and batting line racks and walls floor to ceiling. It’s a chaotic symphony of textiles, skill and passion just waiting to transform old into new, mess into masterpiece.

How could it be otherwise?

Every day for the last 55 years, Peter (Pietro) Petrucci, 85, and his brother Rino, 78, have worked side by side stitching, pleating, tufting and welting, giving new life to some of Rochester’s finest and most storied furniture pieces.

Not the least of which are now luxury accommodations for concert-goers at Rochester’s landmark (Eastman) Kodak Theater.

When it came time a few years back to restore 300 plush theater seats and upholster two stately four-panel doors, project heads turned to J & P Upholstery. The task was monumental, but one Peter and Rino were honored to take on.

All in the family

This 40-year-old Consew 228 is still Peter’s and Rino’s go-to sewing machine. Photo by Melody Burri.

It’s been that kind of “go for it” work ethic that’s kept the Petruccis going strong for decades.

That and their shared passion for excellence, love for their craft, commitment to family and quick wit and humor. After all these years, the two finish each other’s sentences — each in the same deep, rich Italian tones.

Ask the brothers who’s in charge, and they laugh and point to each other.

“I’m the slave, he the boss,” quipped Rino in his signature staccato cadence.

Peter opened J & P Upholstery in Rochester in 1965 with his late brother-in-law John, and in 1968 Rino joined Peter and the two have been together since.

So how do they still get along after all these years?

“Everybody ask us that question,” laughed Peter, echoing Rino’s thick accent. “‘You brother and you work together 55 years?’ They just shrug. They don’t understand.”

Rino said their family has always been close, and that makes all the difference.

“You can’t agree on everything — it’s always something,” he said. “But when you are close and love each other, it’s going to be hard to fight and not talk to your brother anymore.”

“We’re never done,” he added. “It’s your brother — it’s your sister. To me it’s a no-no [to battle]. I don’t care what they say, I don’t care who’s right or wrong. You make a mistake, you fight, but it should be over in an hour. Maybe even less.”

Do Peter and Rino ever disagree?

“Oh yes, every day,” said Rino. “We just talk to each other.”

They also learned the value of hard work at a very young age.

“When we were in Italy, since you are 7 years old you working, especially when you got a farm and animals, you be working every day,” said Rino.

It’s that kind of responsibility that keeps “the mind clean and clear,” he said.

“When we came to this country it was even worse because you have no experience for anything, no language,” said Peter. “It was really tough. But slowly we get there.”

Nowadays they don’t have to work so much, but they want to, because it “keeps the mind clear,” they said.

“You talk with the people and that makes you really happy,” said Peter. “You working and you gotta be careful what you do — your mind is always sharp. It’s not easy, but you have to do what you have to do.”

Another good reason for getting out of the house, Rino joked, is so they don’t have to spend too much time with their wives.

“They tell you what to do otherwise,” he laughed, adding, “I’m kidding.”

120 North Main

The building at 120 N. Main St. was a car dealership, restaurant and gas station before becoming home to J&P Upholstery.

The Petrucci brothers have been creating masterpieces out of their 120 N. Main St. building in Fairport for 43 years now. They know every inch of it “like a woman knows her kitchen,” said Peter.

And like the brothers, the historic structure itself has stories to tell.

In 1935, it was home to a Chevy dealership, with a phone number that was simply “81.” It was also a gas station. In 1958, the building, then a restaurant with apartments on the second floor, was heavily damaged in a fire.

Today a vintage Westinghouse refrigerator, old enough to have great-grandchildren of its own, still purrs like a kitten and does its job beautifully in the upholstery workroom.

Forty-year-old sewing machines still create masterpieces because “if you maintain them, they last,” said Peter.

How fitting

After 55 years, the brothers show no signs of slowing down — not when business is booming with longtime customers and their adult children who’ve now also become customers.

“It’s all word of mouth,” said Rino. “That’s why we haven’t advertised for the last 20 or 25 years — business is crazy.”

As they’ve proven again and again, Peter and Rino are not afraid to tackle a complicated job, even one that’s been rejected by other professionals in the area.

“If it was upholstered at the factory, we can do it again,” said Rino, recalling a particularly tricky German sofa that folded into itself.

“We took it apart piece by piece and put it back together,” he said. “When we delivered they were so, so happy and we were happy.”

A look back and ahead

This 40-year-old Consew 228 is still Peter’s and Rino’s go-to sewing machine. Photo by Melody Burri.

Peter was quite young when he first discovered the career that would give him so much joy and satisfaction through the years. He was working with formica in a Canadian factory. When some of the workers went on strike, his supervisor reassigned him to their floor where he laid eyes on the upholstering textiles and machines.

“When I saw this, I fall in love,” said Peter.

He worked as an upholsterer for three weeks until the striking workers came back. The supervisor had taken note of Peter’s natural ability and craftsmanship, liked it, and opted to keep him upstairs. It was a life-changing decision.

After that, when his boss would move to another job at another factory, he’d take Peter with him.

Now Peter has a wife, two daughters, a son and three grandchildren. Rino has a wife, three daughters and four grandchildren.

“Don’t take her out of the kitchen,” joked Rino of his bride. “If you take her out, you’re done.”

Like many small business owners their age, Peter and Rino say their children and grandchildren have no interest in taking over the business.

“They’ve got a better [idea],” said Rino. “It’s hard work and especially today, you don’t make anything.”

“They’ve got their own life,” agreed Peter.

Instead, he gives this advice to his grandchildren: “If you do something, you gotta do what you like to do — you’re gonna be good,” he said. “If you do something you think you gotta do because you have to make a living, don’t do it, because you’re never gonna be happy.”

As he looks back, Peter said he has no regrets.

“My wife and my brother and my sister — they were college person,” he said. “I’m no college person. I like to work with my hands.

“You go through life with a lot of things. It all depends how you take it. People are respectful to you if you are respectful to them. If you keep busy — your mind goes a good way.”