Couple finds American dream in tailoring business

By Rob Swenson, for SiouxFalls.Business

Paul and Olga Soroka grew their tailoring business by word of mouth to the point that it outgrew their home. So, about 5 1/2 years ago, they moved Olga Tailoring & Alteration into the Village Square retail center along East 26th Street.

Although they have never formally advertised the business, which they built from scratch, they have managed to stay extremely busy.

Paul Soroka estimates that he and his wife typically work 16 hours a day. They reduce their workdays to about eight hours on Saturdays and Sundays, however, and a few years ago they started taking one-week vacations every summer and winter.

“Our goal is to never have an unhappy customer,” Paul said, explaining their long work hours.

“For me, it’s better to be busy than find what to do,” Olga said.

Paul and Olga Soroka

The Sorokas, who are in their upper 30s, have a busy home life, too. They are raising three children, ages 5, 10 and 15.

Customers appreciate the efforts of the couple, who are naturalized American citizens from Ukraine, a country that borders Russia.

“They really put the client first. I think that’s why they’re so successful,” said Sharen Harms, a Sioux Falls Realtor. Harms’ family has been going to the Sorokas for mending work since before the store on East 26th Street opened.

Olga is a “gold mine,” Harms said. “I think her prices are fair, and her work is second to none.”

Olga studied clothing design and music in Ukraine before she moved to the United States. Paul studied carpentry and has done carpentry work in Sioux Falls.

Paul’s parents and other family members fled Ukraine as refugees in 1999. Paul, who was 20 at the time, said “he left half of his heart” in Ukraine. Before leaving, he promised Olga, whom he’d known since their childhood days in Sunday school, that he’d return. He came back two years later, and they got married. Olga got a visa and returned to the United States with her husband a few months later.

Paul and Olga like Sioux Falls. The people are very friendly, Olga said.

Paul initially didn’t know what to expect when his parents decided to move to the United States. His mother, father, grandmother, brother and a married sister and her family all came to the U.S. together. Paul kind of thought they’d end up living in a skyscraper.

“We had no idea of the difference between New York, Chicago, Sioux Falls or Seattle,” he said.

The origin of Olga and Paul’s tailoring business traces back to Paul’s mother buying Olga a sewing machine as a gift. Olga, in turn, made her mother-in-law curtains.

The tailoring business was launched without any market research or formal advertising, Paul said. “Word of mouth was our advertising – the only strategy we used,” he said.

The tailoring business operated out of the Sorokas’ home from about 2005 to 2012. During that time span, Paul also decided to go back to school. He attended Southeast Technical Institute to learn more about construction-related fields. Meanwhile, the tailoring business grew, and Olga needed help. So she started teaching Paul basic sewing techniques, such as how to mark, cut and serge seam fabrics.

The Sorokas took out a loan to move into the retail center, which Paul remodeled to fit the business. Borrowing money to expand the business was a risk, but it was one they were excited to take, he said.

Today, Paul and Olga run the business as a team, without any employees. Olga generally handles women’s clothing, which is a big part of the business. Wedding preparations account for roughly half the store’s business. Paul assists male customers and handles a lot of the management chores.

In addition to providing retail services, the shop has done wholesale work. Halberstadt’s Men’s Clothiers at The Empire Mall used to be a client. Doug Dean, former manager of the mall store, recalls that Paul and Olga were looking for work. Halberstadt’s had a tailor, but the store needed extra help, so it started giving some tailoring jobs to the Sorokas.

“They did extremely high-quality work. They do everything well. Olga is very, very talented,” Dean said. “They don’t work for us anymore. Their business has gotten so big that they stay busy with the shop they have.”

The Sorokas occasionally worked for Norman’s Men’s Wear, too. “Their service and tailoring were exceptional,” said Bob Severson, former co-owner of Norman’s, which closed last spring.

When Norman’s stopped offering tailoring services last November, Olga’s was one of two tailoring shops in Sioux Falls that Norman’s staff members recommended to its clothing customers, Severson said. The other one was Alteration & Tailoring by Lee & Co. on South Minnesota Avenue.

Olga’s and Lee’s are probably the two best tailoring shops in Sioux Falls, Severson said.

Severson expects demand for tailoring and alteration services to grow because clothing stores increasingly rely on outside services. If that’s the case, Olga Tailoring & Alteration might someday have to consider moving again. The Sorokas like where they are now, however.

“God gave us this blessed location where people can see us and find us,” Paul said.

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Couple finds American dream in tailoring business

Paul and Olga Soroka have never formally advertised their business. They’re so busy, they really don’t need to.

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