One of Marblehead’s longest-running businesses is closing next month, and its 96-year-old owner is retiring – reluctantly.
“What am I going to do now?” asked Charles Katsoulakos, who opened his tailor shop more than 55 years ago. “Maybe I’ll sleep a little later.”
Katsoulakos said he has served “hundreds and hundreds” of customers over the decades. He’s seen dramatic swings in fashion, but doesn’t have a favorite style.
“For me, it doesn’t make a difference. I’ll narrow the legs or shorten the hemline, to modernize.” He enjoys working on prom and wedding dresses the most.
“Those beautiful dresses, I love seeing them,” he said. Many of his customers send him photos of themselves wearing the outfits he has altered.
On a recent day, one customer came in to pick up a jacket Katsoulakos repaired.
“It’s my son’s jacket,” she said to him. “He doesn’t even wear it anymore, but I want it to last forever.” She left with a smile on her face.
‘I came to New York with $400 in my pocket’
Katsoulakos grew up in Athens, Greece, and still speaks with a thick accent. He left school when he was 14. “The Germans and Italians occupied the city, and the schools closed.”
He went to work with his father, also a tailor. But by the time he was 30, there wasn’t enough work in the family’s shop to support them both.
“So I came to New York City with $400 in my pocket. But I didn’t know the language and I didn’t like it there,” he said. “I had a friend who owned a Greek restaurant in Malden and so I arrived at his door with my suitcase.”
Katsoulakos met his wife, Ellen, at the restaurant.
“She made her own dresses and was voted best dressed at her high school,” he boasted.
Katsoulakos got a job at a Malden department store, but wanted to work for himself so started taking tailoring work from the Vinnin Square clothing store, Judd’s.
“I had a small rack at home where I kept the clothes, but it collapsed the first week,” because he had so much work.
Katsoulakos decided to open his own shop – first next to National Grand Bank and then, a few years later, down the street at 129 Pleasant. He and Ellen worked there together until she passed away about 20 years ago. He’s been working alone ever since.
Walk into the shop now and you’ll see five old sewing machines, including Katsoulakos’s favorite — an old Singer that he’s had since he opened.
“Even about sewing machines I have memories,” he laughed, affectionately patting the Singer.
There are clothes hanging on different racks and dusty old family photos on the wall.
“I hate to see the store go away,” Katsoulakos said. “I want someone to come in and take it over. They can have everything for free and I can help them.” He encourages anyone interested to stop by the shop before it closes right before Christmas, or to call at 781-631-4812.
Katsoulakos has a message for all his customers.
“I want to thank the people of Marblehead. They’ve kept me busy all the time.”
He is looking forward to one part of retirement.
“I have a chair in the trunk of my car and I will go to Devereux Beach and sit there,” he said.
Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.