Frank the Tailor

I never did learn Frank the Tailor’s last name. Initially he had a shop on College Street on the south-east corner, one block from Spadina. Year in and year out, I brought him my alterations: pants to be cropped, sleeves shortened, skirts adjusted, jackets fitted. He tailored men’s clothes from scratch, but not women’s. For women, his speciality was alterations and his services were prompt, meticulous and extremely reasonably priced. Whenever I bought something new, I paid a visit to Frank, confident that he would have the garment ready for wear very shortly afterwards.

When they prohibited parking on the south side of College street, Frank had to move. His business was dependent on nearby parking. Drop offs and pick ups were his bread and butter. He moved north to Davenport, south of Dupont, on the east side just north of Designers Walk. There was a royal blue portico extending over the porch proclaiming his shop, The Alteration Room. Clearly, his move further north indicated his shop was to become more upscale.

In fact, it was a modest little hole in the wall, on the first floor of a grey clapboard house. He had a small dressing room in the corner, a rack of clothes hanging beside the window, his table and sewing machine facing his customers as they entered the room, an ironing board in the back corner, and a fireplace on the far wall with copies of the children’s books written by his daughter displayed proudly on the mantel piece.

For years I continued to go to him for all my alterations. Although I encouraged him to use my first name, he always called me by my title, was friendly and encouraging. When I undertook a weight loss regime, he applauded my progress but cautioned against losing too much weight. He asked about my sister who lived in Dawson City, Yukon, and who had once brought him her new Toronto purchases for alterations. We discussed our children: their weddings, their children, their work, his daughter’s writing, my son’s deployment. One felt that he genuinely liked his clients and seemed eager to share with them.

Early one May, I brought him a new pair of pants to be shortened; a few days later I picked them up. We exchanged our usual pleasantries and I left. Three weeks later when I returned with some new things for the summer, I parked the car, walked up the steps and found the door locked. On the front window, there was a little sign announcing that on May 31st, Frank had retired. His sign went on to thank his clients for their patronage over the years.

I was devastated. He had said nothing about retiring. I knew that he was getting older, but I took it for granted that he would be around forever. It wasn’t just that I had lost the tailor who had been so faithful all these years. It was that I had lost a friend. In the city, friendships are built on little things, sometimes superficial, but they endure for decades and when they end, one is left bereft. I also would have liked to honour him, to wish him well on his retirement, and thank him for what he had done for me for all those years. I missed him then, and I still miss him. Maybe he knew how much I appreciated him; maybe he didn’t. I regret that I never told him so explicitly.  

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2 comments

  1. Beth

    Marion, I liked your piece. Yes, people like Frank make our city human. I hope he has the opportunity to read your post. I read a great book about tailoring and family recently…called The Measure of a Man by J.J. Lee. He has a program on apparel on CBC Radio One. He lives in Vancouver. It will give you a whole new perspective on family and the dying art of tailoring.

  2. Marvin and Donna from Calgary.

    A lovely story, and Marion, I am sure he knew just how you felt about him, and he thought the same about you. Take care now, and Marvin and I are really enjoying your blog.

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