Faustino Donatelli, Donatelli’s Custom Tailor Shop

Tell me about the history of this store.

My father, he came over from Italy and landed in New York, got a ride to Portland, and he started working at Gordon’s Men’s Shop in Monument Square. I was born in Italy also, so I was ten months old rolling into America. Then, in ’72 he opens up on Munjoy Hill, right next door. We bought this building later. Back then the hill was just crazy. It was rough. Rough and tough, and there was a lot of loitering. I never even knew what the word loitering meant then, but it was loitering. Everybody would hang out in front. Somebody who needed alterations done would park the car in front of 15 juvenile loiterers that were hanging out, and they’d have to get past them into the shop to get their pants mended.

What else do you remember of being young?

The ocean was down the hill so you could go to the beach, and down the street was a pool. It was a beautiful, beautiful pool, and it cost 25 cents to get in. It felt like it was you who owned the hill. I’d do my work, then walk down, go to the pool, and goof off in the ocean. You’d climb on the cliffs some, and then you’d just go back home at six o’clock and eat, and then start the next day again.

Tell me about your decision to become a tailor.

Well, I had no choice! As a kid my father had a business and instead of me going out and playing, my mom would say, “Go with your dad up to the tailor shop and work.” I lived 500 yards away, so at age ten, I’d walk up, and my father would put me to work.

Not many people tailor their clothes the way they once did.

I’m really lucky. I also try to accommodate everybody. Someone might need a rush, and I realize sometimes they’re in a pinch or they’ve got a function. They’ll ask, “Can I get this for tomorrow? For tonight? In an hour?” I come in, I work hard. The customers turn into friends and I can’t say no.

Do you worry about finding someone to take over?

We’ve got grandchildren and nieces and nephews, and I’m going to do all I can to see if somebody would learn. Most tailors are in their 70s: the guys that see you, and they know exactly what to do, sometimes without even marking something.

What have you learned from working with your dad for so long?

It’s family, you’ve got good and you’ve got bad. When you come into the shop you really work together. It’s trying to get heads to agree with the same thing.

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