Highlighting Small Businesses: Ralph’s Tailor Shop: Nearly a half of century of keeping residents clothed
GLOVERSVILLE — Earlier in March, a wall was installed down the middle of Ralph Iorio’s tailoring and tuxedo-rental shop, at 110 S. Main St. Iorio was not upset with his landlord, even if the renovation halved his floor space and lowered the number of changing rooms from five to one.
“It’s for the best,” Iorio said on a recent Friday morning, sitting behind his JUKI sewing machine as he took in a customer’s pair of black slacks. “I can’t afford to keep up the building. Not after last year.”
Iorio has been a tailor in this city since the last day of July 1972. His first shop, at 90 E. Fulton St., was small. He moved to his present location 16 years ago, attracted by its larger size next and a busier thoroughfare. The partition has reduced the shop’s square footage to that like the one he opened nearly 49 years ago.
“I want to be here at least another five years,” said Iorio, who turned 72 on March 6. “I am a good tailor.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been bad for many commercial enterprises, including Ralph’s Tailor Shop.
Demand for tuxedo rentals, always an important contributor to the store’s revenues, evaporated in 2020 as weddings were postponed or downsized, and school proms were canceled. Iorio said he had to tear up more than 200 tuxedo reservations.
In March and April last year, when people were warned not to leave their homes unless it was to buy food or other essentials, few patrons tendered clothing for Iorio to alter or repair.
“I was only making about $100 dollars a month,” he recalled. “That’s no good.”
To stay busy, Iorio pulled bolts of white cottony fabrics from his stocks and began making masks. It was not mass production, as each mask was assembled by hand, but his output was impressive.
“People needed masks,” he said. “I made more than 600 masks and gave them away for free.”
Iorio said his tailoring business began to pick up late last year, just before COVID-19 forced him to close his doors.
“My wife and I both had it in January,” he said. “It was very light. I stayed home for two weeks.”
After he reopened, Iorio began working three days a week: Wednesday to Friday. He has maintained this schedule since, but sometimes meets with customers by appointment on other days.
A few tuxedos were rented out for a wedding in early March, Iorio said, and he also booked reservations for two other spring weddings. They are small affairs, but their very occurrences give him hope for the future.
“It used to be a very good business, up until last year, when it died,” Iorio said. He and his wife, Michele, live about a mile away from the store. “It was as dead as could be, but things are getting better.”
Iorio emigrated from Italy to the U.S. in 1966. He was 17 years old and had been tailoring clothes since he was eight. He learned from a tailor, a neighbor, in Naples.
After school and on weekends, the master immersed the boy in sewing. He learned the rudiments, Iorio said, before the tailor had him make a pair of shorts. He then made some pants, and later he produced a jacket. By the time he was 13, he was able to make a complete suit.
“I never really had a child’s life,” Iorio said. “I didn’t mind. That’s the way it was where I came from. You had to learn a trade, no matter what.”
Iorio moved to Amsterdam soon after arriving from Italy. A brother, Luigi, was working locally as a tailor in a clothing store. Amsterdam was also the birthplace of the brothers’ mother, whose family returned to Italy when she was 11 years old.
Ralph Iorio spent the first six months in America cutting material at an Amsterdam dress factory. He was then hired as a tailor in a nearby clothing store, where he spent the next five years creating and altering apparel.
While working in Amsterdam, Iorio had done side work for the proprietors of some clothing stores in Gloversville. In 1972, they enticed him to work full-time in their city.
“They rented the place for me,” Iorio said. “They cleaned it up. They painted it, and I moved here. They wanted me here.”
Iorio interrupted his reminiscences when a middle-aged man entered Ralph’s Tailor Shop with two pairs of khaki shorts. The man said he was headed to Florida the following week and needed small repairs to the bottoms of the garments. Iorio promised him they would be ready before his departure, at a cost of $5.
When the man left, Iorio reflected on the vocation he took up 64 years ago and wondered about any successors. None of his five sons showed an interest in the trade.
“There aren’t going to be many tailors left anymore,” Iorio said. “Nobody wants to learn. If you want to be a good tailor, you have to start when you’re very young.”