Charles Katsoulakos first learned the art of tailoring at the age of 14, working side by side with his father in Greece. Katsoulakos, now 96, is a Marblehead institution, having served the community for more than six decades at his Pleasant Street shop. But, with his health in decline, Katsoulakos is stepping away, though as he tells it, he’s in no rush to retire.
Katsoulakos said he would like to find someone to take over the shop after his retirement, and he’s willing to help train the right person.
“I’d love to have somebody else or find another tailor to take over,” he said. “It’s a good living. Right now it’s difficult … but in good times it’s a busy place. I hope I find somebody.”
For now, business is slow, Katsoulakos said, and by last Thursday he had completed his work for the week.
He said he hopes someone takes over the shop because he would hate to see all the equipment he’s gathered over the years, including a number of sewing machines, go to waste. Plus, Katsoulakos added, “I might be able to help somebody else.”
“Another person who is a tailor and [doesn’t] have work,” he said.
Over the years Katsoulakos has developed a loyal customer base (including some Essex Media Group staff members), and he said he has been able to carve out a nice life for himself in town.
“I have no regrets I had a good life here people in Marblehead they are nice to me,” he said. “I had a lot of nice people as customers … [I’ll miss] all the nice people come to say hello to me.”
Katsoulakos quipped that his son, who retired at 63, plays golf all day, while he, “the old man,” goes to work. But, he said, he enjoys the rhythms of his routine.
“I love to work,” he said. “The pleasures I get [when] I do work for somebody … they come in and they look in the mirror and see the way they look, it’s so different from the time they bring it to me.”
“I’ve done a lot of bridesmaids dresses, I’ve done for the prom, the long dresses that’s difficult work. But I know about the history of this work … there is nothing that I say that I can’t do,” he added.
When the first snowstorm of the year hits, Katsoulakos will close the shop, a request of his son, he said. He added that he might retire around Christmas time, and he said he hoped he was able to find someone to take over before then.
Katsoulakos, who moved to New York City from Greece in 1955, said he has grown to love Marblehead.
“In Marblehead, summertime is nice. Wintertime is pretty quiet for me because I don’t ski,” he said. “Summertime is nice, I love the weather, it’s nice. I don’t mind the warm weather. I used to have a boat and go fishing.”
The story of how Katsoulakos came to Marblehead begins in Malden, where he worked at a clothing store. While working there, Katsoulakos said he would take work home, including from a Swampscott men’s store that had “real expensive stuff.” When Katsoulakos told the owner of the Swampscott store that he wanted to strike it out on his own, the owner asked him where he wanted to open his own shop. Katsoulakos said he settled on Marblehead only after the man asked him if he wanted to make $1.50 or $3 for sewing a pair of pants. When Katsoulakos replied “$3” the man told him to open in Marblehead.
“Marblehead is a special place … plus I suppose it’s a rich town, wealthy people live in Marblehead,” he said. “Even for myself, I live in a nice place, I bought a house after I opened the store in Marblehead.”
Katsoulakos said as far as he’s concerned his career is “over.” But, he’s not sure what he’s going to do all day in retirement.
“I’m thinking about what I’m gonna do all day long. Started working from I was 14 years old. Day after day. I lost my wife, over 20 years ago and it was hard that time, I had difficult times but I keep going. [I] don’t give up,” he said.
Whoever does take over the Pleasant Street store shouldn’t make many changes, according to Katsoulakos, who said the store can keep going the way it is. All the new owner has to do, he said, is pay the rent and change the name.
“I don’t even want any money. If he wants to give me some money to pay for the machines. I have beautiful machines, four of them. I might take a couple machines in my house. If I need a pair of pants to shorten for myself, I have the machine,” Katsoulakos said, adding that he may run the risk of people knocking on his door asking him to tailor things for them if he winds up holding on to the equipment.
“They say the old tailor never dies,” he said, as tears welled up in his eyes. “I’m going to be around.”