Befitting its name, Luggage Service Inc. in Tampa carries thousands of pieces of luggage, ranging from $50 duffel bags to suitcases costing hundreds of dollars. But it can also:
Make the cracked corners of a Louis Vuitton valise look like new again.
Replace the worn-out bottom of a golf bag with a sturdy aluminum plate.
Fashion a new leather steering wheel cover for an antique Lincoln.
“We can fix anything,” said Robert “Bob” King, the company’s president. “People call us miracle workers.”
For more than 100 years, the family-owned business has been making, selling, repairing and embellishing the things that people use to haul around their stuff. It can fix the zipper on a backpack, monogram an attache case, replace the handles on a purse and put new wheels on a carry-on. Got a spot on that favorite Coach bag? “We can make it go away with either dye or cleaning,” King said.
The store was founded in 1919 by Charles Wilson, who originally called it Tampa-Peninsular Trunk Factory. In an era when people traveled by train or steamship, sometimes packing enough clothing for months-long journeys, the store made “eight numbers of trunks and two numbers of wardrobes,” according to the trade publication Trunks, Leather Goods and Umbrellas. It also sold bags and cases and had a “well-equipped repair department.”
By the time King, Wilson’s grandson, started in the business in the 1960s, air travel was common and luggage had become smaller with handles for carrying. But the big revolution in luggage did not occur until 1989, when a Northwest Airlines pilot hit on the idea of adding two wheels and a retractable handle to a bag that could be easily rolled through the airport and right onto the plane.
“We had customers come in and try to figure out (wheeled) systems with us and nobody could ever figure it out, but then he came out with two wheels and off it went,” King recalled. Today, the bestsellers are four-wheel bags that can be effortlessly moved in any direction.
In its three showrooms, the store carries several lines of luggage including Travelpro (started by the Northwest pilot), Delsey, American Tourister and Samsonite. At the high end is Briggs & Riley, which comes with a lifetime guarantee. Even though the cases are well made, the company has had some issues. “Wheels are one of the biggest things that go,” King said. “Briggs sells to a lot of Europeans and the wheels weren’t holding up, so they made the wheels better able to handle the cobblestones.”
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The store does warranty work for most of the major luggage brands, and handles repairs for United Airlines in Tampa. As a favor to its customers, Sacino’s Cleaners in St. Petersburg sends over damaged luggage and other items.
A good part of the business is repairing or replacing zippers, including on body bags from a funeral home. Purse repairs are common. “Once an older Vuitton bag has cracked, you can never put it back to the way it looked. The only way is to sew leather over it‚” King said. “We do a lot of Coach work, including retrofits.”
Luggage Service also carries a wide range of travel accessories, and custom makes items including leather pillows, belts and knife sheaths.
Among the store’s seven employees are King’s wife, Theresa, and son, Eric. During the early days of the pandemic, when travel all but dried up, King and his wife were often the only ones in the store. Business was so slow that one month they collected just $6 in sales tax.
Today, most luggage is sold online, though many people still like to look and touch before buying. “A lot of people tell me they used to come here as a kid with their parents and now they’re old and bring their kids,” King said. On a recent morning, repeat customers included Bill and Debora Meyer, who had come from Lutz to pick out new luggage for a trip to Iceland.
“We tend to get good quality that lasts,” she said. “It’s worth it.”
As for King himself, he’s not particular about his own luggage. He carries used bags — “left by people who just want a new bag.”
Luggage Service Inc. is at 4121 N Nebraska Ave., Tampa. luggageservice.com or 813-236-5946.