Sew long: Westport tailor shop closing after more than four decades
Published 8:23 am, Thursday, February 20, 2014
Raffaella Sforza's profession for more than 40 years was, you might say, "tailor-made" for her.
Sforza, with her husband, Aldo, ran the Aldo and Raffaella Tailor Shop on Post Road East for several decades. Trained in the profession since the age of 7 in her native Calabria, Italy, Sforza, 73, recently announced plans to retire -- to close up shop for good.
This was her last week in the shop she had shared with her husband for 36 years and Friday her last day on the job.
"This town has been good to me," she said, sitting at the Singer sewing machine where her husband Aldo, who passed away eight years ago, spent many hours.
The two shared a close space -- he had one room to the right, hers was across the hall on the left in a two-story Colonial Green building.
Asked if spending so much time together was, well, too much time together, Sforza just grinned.
Sforza and her husband first came to the U.S. in 1963, she said, when Aldo was offered a job in Rochester, N.Y. She said a man had come to Italy looking for tailors for a men's wear maker. "There had to be thousands of tailors working there; it was a big corporation," she said. "My husband didn't like it. They had him doing piece work."
She said they returned to Italy for a few years, then decided to chance it again in the U.S. This time, they came to Connecticut. It was 1968 and her husband landed a job with Pack Roads, a men's shop in Westport. "I needed to work," she said, and was hired as a tailor at Ed Mitchell's.
She said the owner of the building, where they've had the Sforzas maintained a shop for years, who first made them the offer of space so they could start a business of their own. "His name was Leo Nevas. I will never forget him," said Sforza, who lives in the Southport section of Fairfield.
Sforza said that she would take care of female customers, while her husband did alterations for men.
That was until Aldo died. "It was strange tailoring for the men," Raffaella said as she continued working on her own. She preferred bridal gowns and prom dresses and, over the years, mended, altered and nipped and tucked hundreds, if not thousands, of garments.
"I was proud of my work and always tried to do the best job," she said.
Sforza did have her share of famous clients, though she declined to name names. But, she said, she did have an encounter with a well-known local who ventured into her shop one day.
"This man came in and put his jacket down in front of me," she said. "He said he had a problem and asked if I could fix the big hole in it."
She said she told him he did, indeed, have a problem, but not one she could fix because the hole needed to be woven, not sewed, and she referred him to a shop in Norwalk.
"He said, `OK, thank you' and left," she recalled. A couple who had been waiting asked Raffaella if she knew who the man was. "I said `no,' " she said. "They told me it Andy Rooney." But the story doesn't end there. She said Rooney was so impressed by the way she handled the situation that he wrote about it in a local newspaper. "That felt very good," she said.
On Wednesday, the shop was bare except for the Singer sewing machine and a few other remnants, like a caricature of Aldo, still hanging on the wall next to a collection of religious statues. "I gave away my sewing machine to a tailor in Shelton who lost his business recently in a fire," she said.
And although she said retirement will mean spending more time with her family -- she is the mother of a son and daughter, and has twin granddaughters -- giving up the profession she has loved is very difficult.
"I am leaving here with a heavy heart," she said.
But life goes on, Raffaella Sforza added. That's especially true since, she said, the tailor shop space has already been leased by another business.