Longtime Tulsa tailor prepares to close his shop
BY JASON ASHLEY WRIGHT World Scene Writer
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
11/20/12 at 4:35 AM
"Let me show you my scissors," Tino Tudisco said, motioning for us to follow.
In the back of his eponymous tailor shop at 6 E. Fifth St., Tudisco opened a cabinet and pulled out a huge, heavy pair of scissors, even bigger than the large black-handled ones on his cutting table.
He unsheathed the pair from a light blue case - perhaps the reason they didn't look anywhere close in age to the 50 years Tudisco has owned them, purchased in Italy.
He's keeping those, along with one of the sewing machines and an iron.
"Not for business - in case we need something fixed," said Tudisco, who is retiring the day before Thanksgiving and hopes someone will buy the business.
Tudisco, who will be 83 next month, has been at his current location since 1994. But he's been a tailor since he was 12 - "70 years," he said.
Born and raised in Potenza in southern Italy, Tudisco spent many years after in northern Italy, even working as a tailor in Milan. When the opportunity arose for him to take a job in the United States, he came to New York.
He didn't know any English. Considering the majority of people he ran into on a daily basis were Italian, from the grocer to the pharmacist, why bother?
But in 1978, Tudisco and his South American wife, Inez, moved with their daughter, Claudia, to Tulsa. Upon moving here, they also had a son, Robert.
A friend of Tudisco's said he wouldn't like Oklahoma, that he'd be back in a year or two.
The tailor, however, proved him wrong.
"I love this city," Tudisco said. "It gave me the chance to raise my kids."
It was also here where Tudisco gradually absorbed an understanding of English - self-taught.
"I'm sorry for my English," he said on multiple occasions - even though he knows quite a bit and understood everything we said.
Years ago, a woman at a shop he worked at in town would always laugh at him when he tried speaking English.
"One day, I said, 'How many languages you speak?' And at that moment, she kept quiet," he said, putting a finger to his lips.
Tudisco has worked at a variety of places around town, including Renberg's, a spot at the old Williams Center Forum and Brooks Brothers in Utica Square. In 1994, he opened his own shop.
For decades, he's maintained a staunch work ethic. Even after triple bypass surgery about 20 years ago, he was in the hospital one week. Two weeks after surgery, he was back at work.
"I had a family to support," he said.
Over the years, he's worked on "thousands, thousands, thousands" of suits, he said. His favorites are the Italian-made Brioni and Zegna labels.
His favorite is "the big job" - not the simple alterations but more detail-oriented tasks, such as shortening coat hems and re-doing sleeves, like he was doing to an olive-brown suit coat the afternoon we visited.
"When I do this job, I feel like I'm doing my job 50 years ago," he said.
Steve Turnbo has taken blazers to Tudisco for years.
"Tino is a step back in Americana," said Turnbo, chairman emeritus for Schnake Turnbo Frank PR. "He makes a living with his hands."
Turnbo referred to Tudisco's work as a vanishing craft.
"He is an artist and a dear soul," Turnbo continued. "Downtown will miss him but not forget him."
Tudisco isn't taking anymore clients.
As of the day we visited him, he has a couple of jackets left to finish, some pants, "this thing here" he said of a woman's black shrug. It hung next to his own coat - one of seven or eight custom suits he made for himself. He tried it on for us to show how well it fit.
He also pulled out hundreds of spools and packs of thread.
"Look how much I have," he said, as he pulled an old Christmas card box from the shelf above a sewing machine. It was stuffed with thread for button holes.
The blue Brooks Brothers box in his cabinet was brimming with buttons, and more were in a jar nearby.
"If I can sell, I sell," he said with a shrug.
Hopefully, someone will buy everything so he doesn't have to move it into his garage after Thanksgiving. Everything - except that sewing machine, iron and huge pair of scissors - can go.
He didn't seem melancholy about leaving. In fact, he looks forward to relaxing, maybe going to the St. John Health Club or watching more soccer, which he loves - Italian soccer, specifically.
As we left, he pointed to a map of Italy on the wall in his entry way. It was surrounded by postcards, mostly from Italy - Venice, Florence, Milan, Rome. He beamed while saying each city.
Then, it was back to the big table, and the suit coat, scissors and thread - one last big job.
Original Print Headline: Calling it a day
Jason Ashley Wright 918-581-8483
Tino Tudisco works in his shop in downtown Tulsa. Originally from Italy, Tudisco learned to be a tailor at 12 years old by watching his uncle work. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World
Tino Tudisco's tools sit in a divided tray in his shop. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World
Tino Tudisco works in his shop in downtown Tulsa. After living in New York City, Tudisco moved to Tulsa and has been working here for 34 years. He is retiring on Wednesday. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World
A master tailor, Tino Tudisco stands in his shop door in downtown Tulsa. Tudisco is retiring on Wednesday after working in Tulsa since 1978. He opened his own shop in 1994. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World
Tudisco talks about his work in the front window of his shop. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World