When many in the Mission need their clothes altered, they rush to see Mei Ng.
On a recent Monday, young techies and others who had just finished work for the day brought a burst of traffic into Young’s Cleaners & Alterations, on Mission Street near Sycamore Street, a sliver of a store lined with machines and pegboards filled with spools of thread.
They came with their ill-fitting jackets, jeans that needed hemming, and tops cut too low. It’s not uncommon for a customer to bring in a whole pile of clothes in need of alteration to Ng and her “ladies,” who deftly operate the row of sewing machines against the wall.
“Alterations are like art to me,” said Ng, standing among the thread, fabrics and plastic baskets strewn about her shop.
This 51-year-old seamstress and entrepreneur follows fashion shows and window-shops to see what’s hot for the season.
“She’s incredibly good,” said Kayla, who at 5 p.m. stood in front of a full-length mirror in a new floor-length gown. She wasn’t sure what to do with the sleeves and wanted Ng’s advice.
While Kayla and Ng focused on the dress, “Pepper,” Ng’s black goldendoodle, started barking for attention. Whenever Ng passed the restless furry creature, she advised in Cantonese, “Baby, be quiet, mommy’s busy.”
In the end, Ng had an idea. “I like the sleeves on the shoulder, it’s more elegant,” she said. Kayla agreed.
Only 19, Ng landed in America in 1988 from Guangzhou, China, with a high school diploma. She devoted 18 years to the alteration and cleaning industry, learning everything she would need to run her own business. Four years ago, she became the third owner of Young’s on Mission Street.
While fulfilling her career ambitions, Ng sent all three of her children to college, and listed their professions with pride: software engineer, accountant and insurance sales person. Pepper became her constant companion a year ago after her marriage ended. Nowadays, Pepper jumps in the back seat of her car and accompanies her to work from her home in Hayward.
Though Ng’s business has yet to fully recover from the pandemic, the explosion of online shopping has brought a silver lining. Without a chance to try on clothes before buying, people need alterations more than ever, she said.
Other customers have gone through weight changes after a long period of time at home. “They need me before coming back to society,” said Ng, smiling.
And after 22 years in the industry, Ng understands how to get along with her customers. “I treat them just like my kids,” said Ng. “And they just treat us like a family.”
Even when customers move out of the Mission, she said, “They still come back to visit me.”
Young’s Cleaners & Alterations
Hours: Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 12 to 5 p.m.; Sunday, closed.
Address: 2162 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110