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Artisans of Michigan: Auto upholstery in Flint

We travel the state every once in a while for our Artisans of Michigan series, and this time we went to Flint.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Deborah Schultz-Pawloski, the third generation owner of C.H. Schultz & Sons.

C.H. Schultz & Sons has been repairing upholstery in cars nearly as long as cars have been around. Back in 1917, more than 100 years ago, Clyde H. Schultz was working at Buick and in the garage behind his house. A family business was born. Deborah Schultz-Pawloski is the third generation.

And all that car history is inspiration for her.

“You know, I’ve done this for a really long time so it’s like you see some of the most fabulous cars that are original,” she says. “The GTO was gorgeous inside, the last one was. And, you just ... pull things from everything that you’ve seen and put it all together and you just throw ideas at people and they end up making a decision of what they want. But, they come from all over. It’s not difficult. That’s the best part.”

In recent years, there has been an explosion in car shows on TV that showcase some wild interiors. Take a listen:

Schultz-Pawloski says she doesn’t think those shows have had “any impact at all” on her business.

“But, people now think that they can drop off a car and have a restoration done in two weeks, which is not how that works at all,” she says. “It’s usually at least a month to do a complete restoration.”

C.H. Schultz & Sons has a range of vehicles, from a new F-150 to a ’38 Chevrolet and a ’69 Camaro.

Schultz-Pawloski says the shop is often working on the full range of cars – from early makes to current models.

“We have people that just stop to visit to see what we have in the shop,” she says. “We have our own car show every day.”

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Deborah Schultz-Pawloski designed the graphics on this building.

I saw a Hudson and a Packard in the shop. The Packard looked like it probably did when it came off the showroom floor – or close – and the Hudson did not at all.

“The Hudson came in and he knew exactly what he wanted,” Schultz-Pawloski says. “In fact, I have never even met the man. He shipped the car to us and said, ‘I want red with silver cords.’ So, that’s what we did.”

“The Packard came and we could not duplicate the material,” she says. “So, the owner actually got the material that they wanted and we just did the labor on the whole thing. But, that is original, exactly original.”

Schultz-Pawloski says she prefers custom jobs. She loves those.

There’s no thought when you do original,” she says.

That said, in her shop original jobs aren’t just about duplication.

“We try to make everything better than what was ever produced,” she says. “So, when we reproduce it, everything is done correctly so it lasts a long time that way.”

When it gets busy at C.H. Schultz and Sons, Schultz-Pawloski spends more of her time just running the business of getting jobs in and getting jobs out of the shop, but that’s not her favorite part.

“I do like my hands on,” she says. “I really do. I thoroughly enjoy sewing.”

Now, before I give you the impression they only redo upholstery for cars and trucks, Schultz-Pawloski told me about the other jobs she does:

“Right now we have a boat here,” she says. “We have dental that we’re picking up tonight, a dental office. These beds here are from blood donors; they’re blood donor beds.”

“We do ATVs … actually across the board we do everything except for household furniture. That’s the only thing we don’t do. But, motorcycle seats, Jeep tops, all sorts of Jeep things. Just everything except for furniture.”

Like I mentioned, this business has been replacing car upholstery for more than a century. But, Schultz-Pawloski says there’s never a dull moment.

“The most entertaining part is: you never do the same thing every day. Ever. Even if it’s the same seat cover you might be putting on, there’s always something different on the other side. So, it’s never boring,” she says.

Deborah Schultz-Pawloski of C. H. Schultz & Sons, Incorporated in Flint, is our latest Artisan of Michigan.

Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

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Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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