Small Business

Albert Ish: The Master Craftsman Behind Ocean Avenue’s Central Upholstery

Albert Ish’s Central Upholstery has been doing business on Ocean Avenue since 1960. His father started the business in 1934 in the Mission District.

Albert Ish’s Central Upholstery has been doing business on Ocean Avenue since 1960. His father started the business in 1934 in the Mission District.

When some people say technology has killed good customer service, then they have not been to Central Upholstery on Ocean Avenue where Albert Ish has been serving Ingleside and the surrounding neighborhoods since 1955.

“Our shop has had a very nice relationship with the neighborhood,” Ish said. “Sure there have been some highs and lows over the years but we have lasted for a long time, so perhaps that says something is working.”

Ish assumed the upholstery business from his father Albert D. Ish Sr. after working with him for seven years. Ish’s father started the business in the Mission District in 1934. He hopes it will continue on to the next generation with his son, Albert Ish III, or his grandson, Albert Ish IV.

“Although I would want my son to make his living at something more lucrative than upholstery,” Ish said. While upholstery work can be steady, it takes time to complete each project. And, the amount of time spent per project varies.

“It can take anywhere from as little as two weeks to perhaps two months,” Ish said. “It all depends upon the type of furniture, the availability of the fabric and other materials in stock, etc.”

The products and materials used today have changed vastly. Trends in manufacturing and the quality of fabrics and materials are completely different than when Ish started.

“When I first got into the business with my father, the use of one hundred percent cotton, silk, wool and linen was the standard,” Ish said. “Now with so much synthetic materials being used from a myriad of suppliers, the selections and availability of such high quality fabrics at an affordable price is not easy to find.”

Still, even with the significant change in materials, Ish likes a challenge. “Some projects I can go through easily, while others are a challenge and require more detail or attention,” Ish said.

“The high-tech era has had no effect on my business,” Ish adds. What Ish provides is a skilled craft. For example, a fine antique, something made with cherry oak or mahogany. Some antique furniture is a work of art and was made with outstanding craftsmanship. And it is his attention to detail that earns him the distinction of a “true-craftsman,” as San Francisco resident, Eric Salamon describes Ish.

Praising Ish’s work on Eric Salamon wrote, ”Mr. Ish is extremely professional, trustworthy, patient, personable competent, and an all around great guy. He is excellent at what he does and he loves doing it. We would recommend him a hundred times over.”

Long-time customer, Mark Picciano would agree. “Albie, (as he calls him with great esteem) is very charming and knowledgeable,” Picciano said. When an old but cherished couch was in need of renovation, Picciano searched for an upholstery shop. When he found Central Upholstery, Ish presented him with an “attractive estimate;” he was more than pleased.

“Albie had the couch completed in ten days and he offered to do the two chairs that go with the couch,” said Picciano. “Yet, when I said to him that I had no idea of what fabric to select, Albie told me not to worry, he would find the right pattern and fabric to match.” And, if a customer brings him something that he knows is not worth re-upholstering Ish will tell them so.

“Yet, I only make suggestions,” he said. “I try not to push my views or ideas. I merely let a customer know what is possible. And, which is the best approach of renovation for that particular piece. And if it will cost a bit too much, especially for a poorly factory made piece, I will tell the customer, perhaps you should simply buy a new chair or sofa.” For Ish, the customer comes first and that is something he takes great pride in doing. “I enjoy the people,” he said. “I can and will make a house visit.”

A native San Franciscan, Ish has seen a lot of changes over the years. He likes the diversity that San Francisco has and while he has been other places there is no place like home.

Albert Ish, owner of Central Upholstery, loads a finished product into his truck in front of his shop on Ocean Avenue.

Albert Ish, owner of Central Upholstery, loads a finished product into his truck in front of his shop on Ocean Avenue.

He is pleased that many of his customers are children or grandchildren of his father’s customers back in the 1950’s.”There used to be upholstery shops, and the like, such as shoe and watch-repair, all over the place, in every neighborhood,” Ish said.

Mark Picciano agreed. He has seen a lot of change to Ingleside, especially since the 1990s. Mostly Picciano made mention of how much real estate prices have skyrocketed. Ingleside and the surrounding area used to be working and middle class neighborhoods. Yet with the median price of a home in San Francisco at close to if not at 1 million, few working families can afford to buy a home.

Still, Picciano, like Ish, believes San Francisco even with flaws continues to be one of the most exciting places. “Everything is right here,” Ish said. “But, a place like Central Upholstery I guess, is part of a vintage era. It is something you don’t see much anymore. Yet, the work I do is appreciated and people still want quality and a commitment to customer service.”

Central Upholstery is located at 1940 Ocean Ave. To schedule an appointment, call
(415) 584-3900.

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