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Businesswoman gets a boost East Side Stories / Ann Rhod's Tailoring

Annette Watts has been a fixture in her Kensington-Bailey neighborhood since 1980, two years after she first moved to Buffalo from her native Cleveland.

Since 1994, Watts has also been making her way as a businesswoman in the neighborhood, fulfilling a longtime dream after first working at Delphi Harrison in Lockport and later doing clothing alterations for a local dry cleaners.

"That was my main focus. I wanted my own business," said Watts.

Thanks to a $35,000 microloan from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, the proprietor of Ann Rhod's Tailoring at 3185 Bailey Ave. last month moved into new digs, right next door to where her old shop had been located for the past 17 years.

"I was in need of some funds, so it was suggested that I try that [route]," Watts explained recently, while still doing alterations on a garment a half-hour after she had officially closed for the day.

"The reason I was looking for funds was for this building. I bought it from the owner, but I [also] took on the back taxes," Watts added. "Otherwise, I couldn't get a loan."

Watts had only 375 square feet of working space in her old shop at 3181 Bailey.

"Over here, I have 1,100 square feet. That's including my little office space I have now back there. So, yes, it's almost three times as big," she said, with a laugh.

The loan also allowed her to purchase new sewing machines and install new dressing rooms.

"I needed a nice waiting area with two nice-size dressing rooms, because my old dressing rooms were too small," Watts said.

Nearly 20 years ago, Watts started her business as a seamstress, making dresses and other garments for the sartorially savvy clients in her neighborhood who make up the bulk of her customer base.

"It's been about 10 years since I stopped making clothes, because it was just too much work for one person," she added.

Focusing just on alterations now, Watts has two part-time employees to help.

Watts said her mother taught her most of the tricks of the sewing trade. The former Kent State University textiles major added that she still has the first sewing machine that was given to her at age 16. She finally retired it in February.

Watts passed on her skills to her 34-year old son, Rhodney. Initially, he was supposed to help his mother run the business, hence the name: Ann Rhod Tailoring.

"It's [a combination of] Annette and Rhodney," said Watts.

Though her son has since moved his family to Texas, Watts said she has made sure to share her skills with her 13-year-old grandson, who she anticipates will help at the shop when he visits this summer.

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