Although it’s only one of the many services offered by the Lowitz Custom Shoppe in Kalispell, something is fitting about the reupholstery done there, where they can take an old piece of furniture and make it new. Because at Lowitz, that careful work is done by three generations of the same family, in business since 1957.
On a recent workday, Kayla Lowitz, 19, was pulling the staples out of a set of antique chairs. A few feet away, her grandfather, Bud Lowitz, was laying out the new material for those chairs. While on the other side of the shop, Dave Lowitz – Kayla’s father, Bud’s son – was preparing huge swathes of blue canvas to assemble a new awning for the emergency room at Kalispell Regional Medical Center.
“It really challenges your creativity, trying to get just what the customer wants,” Dave said. “Because there’s really no limit to the design that we can do.”
On Dave’s worktable lay a pair of 50-year-old, heavy, left-handed scissors inscribed with the initials of his grandfather, Bud’s father, Delbert, who started the shop at its original location, at the corner of Seventh Avenue West and Seventh Street.
“He’s got the same initials as me,” Dave said. “He gave them to me when he was done using them.”
“A lot of these things you see around here my grandfather built,” Dave added.
And much of the equipment at the Lowitz Custom Shoppe Delbert didn’t build is decades old. Dave pointed to an antique-looking industrial sewing machine where his daughter was sitting.
“The machine Kayla is working on I learned to sew on 30 years ago,” Dave said. “A lot of quality is old.”
Despite the age of some of the tools the Lowitz family uses, what they can build is undeniably modern. Chances are if you see a canvas awning on any storefront in the Flathead, Lowitz built it. If you come across a custom top for a boat on the lake, it’s a fairly safe bet Lowitz designed and built that too. They also handle interiors for boats, insulating skirts for RVs, roll-up shades and just about any other custom project a client requires. For boats too big to fit in the shop, Dave will travel to the water and do the work on site.
“We like challenges,” Dave said, pulling out a picture of a 1913 Daimler automobile for which he built a trunk, top and leather interior, crafting the frame out of oak for historical accuracy.
Though Lowitz employed as many as 13 people during the 1970s and 1980s, over the years it has winnowed down to purely a family operation, and Dave likes it that way.
“You have complete control of the quality,” he said. “I sell the job and I do the job.”
Bud intends to continue working, “as long as I’m able.” He acknowledged family businesses, where different generations work side by side, are growing scarce, and recalled how when he was growing up, most teenagers headed home after school to work on their families’ farms.
“To me, it’s very pleasurable working with my family, because not everybody gets to do that,” Bud said.
Representing the fourth generation of Lowitzes to work at the business, Kayla plans on going to school for interior design, but for now works full-time at the shop.
“I like it,” she said. “I get to know my grandpa a lot more, being with him every day.”
In many ways, the success of Lowitz Custom Shoppe stems from the family’s ability to adapt to the Flathead’s changes. Dave learned reupholstering as a teenager by repairing the seats of cats and skidders for logging outfits – jobs that have become fewer. He also recalls stitching 22-foot, fire-retardant curtains to separate pot lines at the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company.
“It’s a lost art,” Dave said. “There are fewer and fewer people going into this kind of work, but you can make a living.”
And with orders lined up for months, he and the rest of the family are keeping busy.
“We’ve been around a long time; hopefully we’ll be here a long time to come,” Dave said. “It’s been good to us.”
For more information on Lowitz Custom Shoppe, call 406-755-3200 or visit www.lowitzcustomshoppe.com.
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