I've been a tailor for a long time; almost fifty years. I learned the trade from my father, Salvatore Spinella, and he was taught the business by his father. My parents came through Ellis Island from Florence, Italy back in the 1920s. Papa had a cousin who had emigrated from Italy a year earlier and carved out a decent life for himself in Boston so, of course, that was where they headed. There was enough of an Italian community in Boston's North End that they could get by even though they didn't speak a word of English when they first arrived.
Papa found work in a factory and he and Mama scrimped and scraped and saved enough for him to buy this storefront on Salem Street sixteen months after arriving in Boston. They moved in on the top floor and rented the apartment on the second floor which helped offset the mortgage. Papa was able to open Spinella's Fine Italian Tailoring a month later. Good thing, too, because Mama was pregnant with me. I'm the oldest of five; we were all born here in Boston.
I started hanging out in the shop when I was around eight years old. Some nights, Papa would be in the shop working late and Mama would have me bring him dinner. I would keep him company sometimes and ask questions about what he was doing. He saw that I was really interested and soon, he had me come into the shop for a few hours on Saturdays to help. I would take measurements sometimes or sew buttons on or sweep up; whatever he needed done. From the beginning, I loved it and knew I wanted to make a living doing it.
That didn't sit too well with my mother. She wanted all of her children to become doctors and lawyers. She made sure that I went to school and did my homework and studied every night. If my grades slipped, the first thing she took away was spending time in the shop. She eventually came around to my way of thinking. She saw that I was serious about learning the business and, I think even more importantly, she saw how happy it made Papa that his oldest son wanted to follow in his footsteps. As soon as I graduated high school, I went to work fulltime in the shop. When Papa passed away, I took it over.
I think the first time Denny Crane came in to have a suit made was around 1958 or '59. I had read a little bit about him in the papers; he had won an acquittal for a man accused of murder. He wasn't the "Great Denny Crane" then. He was just a young man building a career who was starting to come into some money and thought a custom – made suit was something he should have. I remember he told me that he had no idea what he wanted or what would look good on him. He was a little nervous, I think, about getting measured so I did what my Papa had taught me: I asked him questions to get him talking and take his mind off of what was happening. I didn't know any other attorneys at the time but, he kind of fit my idea of how they are; talkative, well – spoken, maybe a little full of himself. We got along right from the start.
When he came back for a fitting, he was really happy about how the suit looked on him. Papa told me early on that a lot of men are clueless when it comes to fashion so you have to point them in the right direction. I made some adjustments and when he came in to pick up the finished suit, he was thrilled. "Giuseppe," he said, "you have made yourself a customer for life."
True to his word, Denny became a regular, albeit in the beginning, infrequent customer. But, as his reputation, fame and clientele grew, so did the number of suits he had made each year. I had been making four suits a year for him for almost forty years plus, handling all of his alterations and repairs. Denny may or may not be larger than life but, he is definitely larger than he used to be and I've got the measurements to prove it.
Through the years, we became more than tailor and customer; we became, if not friends, friendly. He sent a lot of business my way. When he came in to order a suit, he would tell me what was going on in his life and I would talk about mine. I think Denny is a wonderful man but, he must be hard to live with. Every time he would tell me he was getting married, he would seem so full of hope and happiness because he thought he had found the love of his life. So many wives and, they all divorced him. And, none of them gave him children. Every time he would tell me that he had been served with divorce papers, he would tell me how lucky I was to have found and married Angela so early in life. He struck me as being a lonely man. I give him credit, though. A lot of men, most men, would have given up on the idea of being married after three strikes but, not him. He still keeps stepping up to the plate. I guess he feels that, one day, like the Red Sox, he'll break the curse and win the World Series of matrimony.
About three years ago, my youngest daughter, Stephania, joined me in the business. What a surprise she was! She was what the women call a "change of life" baby; totally unexpected and seventeen years younger than the daughter we thought was our last child. People always mistake her for my grandchild. How strange is it that she is, of all four of my children, the most like me? She loves tailoring and she's excellent at it.
The first time Denny laid eyes on her, I thought I was going to have to lose my oldest customer. He openly ogled her, introduced himself and asked her out to dinner. He was shocked when I stepped in between them and introduced her as my daughter. He backed off but, Denny being Denny, he decided that, from now on, Stephania would handle his measurements and fittings. I watched that first time she took his measurements like a hawk just to make sure Denny didn't get up to any shenanigans.
About a year ago, Denny came in to have his summer suits made and he brought a man with him that he introduced as his friend Alan Shore. I have to say, I was a little surprised at how much younger Alan is. I knew they had met about four years earlier because Denny had told me stories about his new best friend Alan and the fishing trips they'd taken, the movies they'd seen together, the double dates they'd been on and social functions they'd attended. I thought they had to be about the same age. I was glad that he at least had someone to hang out with since he doesn't have a wife and kids. He seemed to have gotten back, what's that phrase? Oh, his joie de vive. Whoever this guy is, I used to think, he had done Denny a world of good.
Anyway, Denny tells me that Alan wants to have two suits made also. I didn't even bother getting up again from my sewing machine because I assumed Denny had told him about my daughter and that he wanted Stephania to wait on him. So imagine my surprise when he walked over to me and asked if I would help him. When he told me that he is also an attorney, I found that to be very interesting because, in many ways, he is the opposite of Denny. I wouldn't say he's an introvert but, compared to Denny, he is very reserved and quiet when he comes into my shop. He's very polite but, he doesn't share tales like Denny does.
I don't know how they are outside of my shop but, I can't imagine it's much different from when they are here. Denny's personality expands to fill whatever space he's in; it demands attention from an audience. Alan seems to be his built – in audience. I don't mean to say that I think Alan is a "yes man" or toady, not at all. Maybe it's the age difference that makes Alan deferential toward Denny most of the time but, I did see him stand up to Denny once. When Alan came back that first time with Denny for their fittings, they were quietly bickering because, from what I could gather, Denny wanted to go to some questionable part of town to meet up with some woman he had started talking to online and Alan was telling him no, do not do that. Stephania and I were pinning and marking the fabric and minding our business as hard as we could. Alan finally got Denny to agree to meet this woman at a bar they both frequent instead. I can see that he cares about Denny and enjoys being around him. From what I can see, he is a good friend to Denny.
I don't know how much longer Denny will be coming to have his suits made. He's getting up in age just like I am and I get the feeling that when Denny stops coming, Alan will, too. Maybe, it's just as well. My daughter will get her own regular customers. At the end of this year, I'm retiring and handing the reins over to Stephania. My Papa would be so proud to know that the business he started all those years ago is being taken over by the third generation of his family. That's a good thing.