There is a piece of advice that just about everyone in the Gloversville area has heard at least once: “Take it to Ralph.”
There is never any doubt about who Ralph is, and there is never any doubt that Ralph will fix whatever it is.
Ralph Iorio, the last tailor in Gloversville, has been a community institution for 35 years.
He repairs garments of all kinds, takes in and lets out seams and suits, attaches the variety of extras that go on high school athletic uniforms. and sometimes agrees to work on something from left field, like a tent.
Until it was no longer cost effective to make a suit from scratch, he made them. Now he sells a variety of brand names at his South Main Street shop, where his clientele includes many of the local lawyers.
“It’s nice to have someone who’s an expert and who can provide personal service as opposed to going to a department store,” said Brian J. Toal, a Johnstown lawyer who said he has purchased about a dozen suits from Iorio in recent years.
“He always does a good job,” said Toal, who said he also feels good about shopping locally.
“He’s the man, Ralph’s the man,” said Anthony Casale, a partner in the Mayfield firm of Schur & Casale. “He’s not only convenient, but he’s got the best prices around and he knows what he’s doing,” Casale recently bought five suits in one visit.
Iorio took a circuitous route to Gloversville, where he opened his first shop in 1972.
His mother, Esterina, was born in Amsterdam but eventually returned with her family to Italy. Iorio, now 58, was born in Caserta and, by virtue of his mother’s American citizenship, entered the world as a citizen of two countries.
At 17, when he decided to claim his right to live in the United States, he had already apprenticed as a tailor. He made slacks when he was 12 and suits when he was 15.
He settled in his mother’s hometown of Amsterdam, got tailoring jobs in several well-known and now-defunct men’s clothing stores in the Capital Region and then met his wife, Michele, a Gloversville native.
The couple raised five sons, all of whom played football for Gloversville High School. As the boys went through school, Ralph Iorio did as much free work for school activities and functions as he did for pay at his shop.
“My wife and I got involved in so many things at school,” he said. He fixed and altered uniforms and on at least one occasion made the costumes for a school play. Once he made 40 hats for an elementary school function.
“It was always nice to help out the kids,” he said.
The South Main Street shop, which he bought several years ago, is Iorio’s third location in Gloversville. Of his customers he said: “They always followed me wherever I went.”
When he started in 1972 there were four other tailors competing for business. Now Iorio is the last. As a result, he has an unending backlog of work to get to, but having no successor in the area seems to bother him.
no more handmade
There is no such thing as the apprentice program he entered in Italy. A small shop, he said, can not afford to train someone.
As he sat behind the back counter on a recent day, his Chandler sewing machine whirring and stopping as he shortened the sleeves on a sport coat, he was musing over the economics of making a suit from scratch, a task he once performed routinely.
Except for a suit he made for one of his sons to take to college, he hasn’t taken on that chore in 25 years. One suit can take a week to produce, and with so many hours of labor, along with the cost of the fabric, the price these days would have to be more than $1,000, Iorio said. In a market where customers expect to pay no more than several hundred, expensive handmade suits will go unmade.
Iorio is quick promote his inventory of factory suits. He carries a number of brands from Italy and what isn’t hanging on the racks can be ordered from his catalogues.
Gloversville Mayor Tim Hughes avails himself of Iorio’s services. On one occasion, Hughes decided to resurrect a suit that belonged to his father.
“He can fix anything,” said Hughes, recalling how the suit was “10 sizes too big” and Iorio made it a perfect fit.
Mayfield lawyer Ronald R. Schur Jr. has been buying suits from Iorio for 15 years and has tested the tailor’s skills.
“I’ve had the misfortune of gaining weight and the good fortune of losing weight” over the years, Schur said. Iorio has come through with the alterations.
“I’ve been to other places to department stores,” Schur said. “But now, I buy all my stuff from Ralph. For the quality and service there’s no comparison,” he said.
“If Ralph were in Albany I’d drive down there to do business with him,” Casale said.
Iorio may be the last tailor around, but he has no plans to retire. It is clear his five sons will pursue other careers. He said he is not ruling out one of his three grandchildren showing some interest in the trade.
But for the time being, he will report for duty on South Main. “My hands are slowing down, but my eyes are still good,” he said.
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Categories: Schenectady County