Gaetano “Tom” Collana spends up to eight hours a day working at his sewing machine. He says he loves his Singer 241-12, and for a tailor, that is good. An old-school tailor, Collana, 59, was introduced to the trade as a child in his of hometown of Ravanusa in Sicily.
His son, Luigi, 27, grew up to the beat of a sewing machine in the small shop the family opened in their West Seneca home in 1988. Today, Tom & Luigi’s Tailor Shop on Seneca Street is slowly devouring the house, with father and son now manning a bank of machines in the dining room.
The family-run business also includes two Mrs. Collanas, Liliana (Gaetano) and Angela (Luigi).
At 14 months, grandson Leonardo is not only the youngest face in the house, he may be he future of the business.
People Talk: You two make a great team. Why do you work so well together?
Luigi Collana: After so many years – I’ve been doing this since I was 5 – we built a relationship like anyone else. We know each other well.
Gaetano: At this time at my age, he is teaching me. We don’t change the work. It’s a new way to think.
PT: How did you learn the trade?
Gaetano: I was 8 years old in a town called Ravanusa. The parents don’t want you in the street, so they send you to learn a trade. My dad was a farmer. He had a very hard job. You learn a trade, work inside and try to get something out of life. I was 11 years old when my sister married someone from Buffalo, and the whole family followed her here. I finished high school at age 14. I was learning the trade. For eight years, I was an apprentice.
PT: Who is the more demanding customer, men or women?
Gaetano and Luigi: Women.
Gaetano: Us guys are easy. If I buy a suit and I had a wedding a month ago, I will wear the same suit for the next wedding. The ladies will not. Women spend a lot more money than men.
PT: Professionally, what do you do best?
Gaetano: Anything. Nothing is hard – a small job, a big job. We do it all.
PT: Darts, hems, pleats, zippers – Doesn’t anything give you a problem?
Gaetano: Invisible zipper. That’s a little more difficult to do. For a while I wasn’t doing it, but then my son asked me, “Papa, why don’t you do zippers?” And we started again. They don’t make zippers like they used to. A lot of people come in for snaps. We don’t do snaps. That’s like a shoemaker job. Thank God we have one nearby.
Luigi: Sometimes when we’re real busy, it can get overwhelming. It can take an entire day to sew on a button with all the people coming in and out.
PT: How do you distinguish yourself from other tailors?
Gaetano: Fifty-one years of experience.
PT: What fabric gives you headaches?
Gaetano: Some of the new material we have really gives us a hard time sewing it. Once in a while we find out that the regular sewing machines do not work right with some fabrics. So we explain it to the customers.
Luigi: Like Spandex – a straight stitch won’t sew through it. The stitch skips.
PT: What are people wearing these days?
Luigi: The younger generation likes the more tailored European look. The older crowd wants the more classic suit, nothing too tight. We have a full selection of suits.
PT: What is a popular men’s coat size?
Gaetano: 44 to 48.
Luigi: Buffalo loves their chicken wings.
PT: Is your field competitive?
Gaetano: No, it’s a dying trade and the young kids, like my son, are one in a thousand.
PT: Is your job physically demanding?
Luigi: Right now I can’t say. I’m too young.
Gaetano: My job, every five minutes you move your hands a different way. You’re sitting. You’re standing. You move around measuring people. It’s not like you do the same thing 12 to 13 hours a day.
PT: Are customers surprised by their measurements?
Luigi: I’ll ask a guy if he knows what his size is, and he’ll say 44, and he’s really a 48. Nobody wants to be bigger than they are.
Gaetano: Once in a while when we measure the trouser inseam the men are surprised when their two legs vary by a quarter- or half-inch. They’ll say, “You mean I’m off?”