As a kid in Lebanon, Chayban Chayban watched movies and became hypnotized by American glitz and glamour.
"Everything was so beautiful, shining and new," he recalls. "And it was my goal to come here, to open my tailor shop and have my name on beautiful buildings all over the place."
Decades later, Chayban's American Dream is in full swing. His name is inscribed on six area alterations and dry cleaning stores -- from the Northtowns to the Southtowns.
Chayban started his tailoring business more than 30 years ago, building and sustaining a reputation as a premier tailor. And one, as he puts it, who makes "everything from scratch," at his Walden Galleria location, for a wide range of customers -- from prom dresses for high schoolers to business wear for professionals to suits for Buffalo Bills players.
Despite the advent of cheaper off-the-rack garments that are inexpensive to replace, Chayban's business making custom-made clothes has enjoyed longevity.
"It's cheaper to buy off the rack, but it doesn't last you long," he said. "But my customers keep their custom suits for 10, 15 years. They know it's a better value, so they come back."
With his multiple locations, Chayban, 58, said: "I'm happy. The stores are my vision. My dream is real."
An adventurous 19-year-old Chayban, with his wife, arrived in America in 1973. Their flight from Lebanon landed in New York City, and the couple asked other passengers for advice on a good city to start out. They said Buffalo, and the couple hopped on the next flight upstate.
"All I knew was I coming to a nice, beautiful place," Chayban recalls. "And I just wanted to be big -- have a big business."
But he spoke no English, knew no one and had only $50 in his pocket, which would become the security deposit for an apartment.
Within a week, though, he landed his first job at tailoring shop on Elmwood owned by his landlord's relative. Chayban's uncle, a master tailor, had taught him how to sew when he was 7. Chayban did not attend school, so he was determined to turn his sewing skill into a profession.
"It was the only thing I knew how to do," he said.
During his first few years in Buffalo, he worked 80-hour weeks, putting in hours for different tailors and doing shifts at local plants. By 1978, he'd saved enough to open his first store. Other locations quickly followed, and at one point, he had 10 stores. While not formally educated, Chayban has an innate business sense.
"I listened to my customers, whatever they wanted, I did it," he said.
In the beginning, his stores were concentrated in the city, and he made only men's business suits. But some customers only needed alterations, women wanted wedding gowns and other dresses; suburban residents wanted him closer; and other customers wanted dry cleaning services.
Over time, Chayban honored all of their requests. Five of his six stores are in the suburbs, multiple locations offer dry cleaning, and custom wedding gowns are a big part of his business. He also added a wide selection of fabrics, including English wool and Italian silk.
"I wanted to make the business everything they wanted and make my service fast and convenient," he said. "Business is good because we do everything. So when dry cleaning is down, wedding dresses are up. When prom dresses are down, suits are up, so we do OK."
Chayban and his wife have five children, all of whom, at some point, worked at the various locations. His wife sews wedding dresses at the Depew location, and two of their children supervise a couple of the stores. Other relatives have also been employed by Chayban, who currently has 13 people on staff.
"I started when I was 7 years old, just a little kid," Chayban explained. "A lot of people don't have the knowledge about sewing and making clothes that I have. I have more experience than most tailors."
He said he has passed his skills onto his wife, children and other family members, assembling a team of well-trained employees.
"No job is too big or small for us," he said, adding he's made clothes for a 520-pound customer. "We do it all -- cut, make and trim."
If the burgeoning medical campus reaches its potential, Chayban would like to open a store on Main Street. He's also considering reopening a store in Niagara Falls, near the bustling casino and tourism traffic.
But for now, Chayban is content and busy with his current locations. He manages his Walden Galleria store, putting in 15 hours a day. The store is his newest and most successful. It's the site of his custom tailoring operations, the heart of his business. Chayban said the 2000 move into the mall brought him new customers, including a lot Canadians, and the location, with tiled exterior, golden entrance and lights around the large display windows, solidified a dream come true.
"Getting a store in the mall is not common for a tailor, so it's a big deal -- an honor for me," he said. "It's a lot of traffic and high rent, but I get a lot more customers. And it means my dream has really come true because the store looks just like my vision of America I had in Lebanon."