Catching up with Franco the Tailor

Franco (right) and his son Giovanni have been working side by side for 25 years. Photo by Matt Nagle
Franco (right) and his son Giovanni have been working side by side for 25 years. Photo by Matt Nagle

Back when Franco Marchio was a little boy growing up in the Italian state of Calabria, he lived like a typical kid – playing beneath sunny skies and getting into adventures among the quaint old villages that make the “toe” of the country’s boot-shaped peninsula one of the most charming places in the world. Lucky for him, he had a mother who watched out for her young son, teaching him the value of work as well.

His parents being the owners and operators of a popular bed and breakfast, young Franco felt destined to take over the family business one day. His parents saw this for their son as well, but mom was one step ahead.

As Franco recalls, “When I was in school at 12-13 years old, my mother said, ‘When you get out of school, you have to go to the maestro tailor to learn.’ I said, ‘Mom, I don’t want to learn to be a tailor. I’m going to take over your business.’ She said, ‘Never mind. Learn an art then put it aside. Learn something.”

It wasn’t long before he realized that this was the best advice he ever got. Turned out that Franco met the love of his life, Rosetta, when they both were 19 years old. She was in Italy from Tacoma visiting her family, so soon after the couple married (1962), Franco headed off for his new life in America with Rosetta by his side and his tailoring skills at the ready.

“I hardly spoke English but I knew my trade,” Franco said. “Six months after I came here, I opened my business in Tacoma.”

For 25 years Franco plied his trade at his downtown shop at Commerce and 9th then he moved to the Stadium District, where he has been for the past 30 years. About 20 yeas ago he purchased the building that houses Franco the Tailor, a fitting chapter in Franco’s distinguished entrepreneurial history.

Today, Franco and son Giovanni together carry on the business and the art of tailoring, which, Franco laments, is dying in this 21st century.

“Nobody wants to learn it anymore,” he said. “Even in Italy my age group was the last people that learned this trade.” Why? Because the training is extensive and apprentice tailors don’t make a lot of money right away. “Today, people don’t want to go for years learning a trade and earning no money. They can just go to a factory, or something like that, and from the first day they get paid.”

Son Giovanni (who also goes by John), however, is the exception to this trend and that makes his father very proud. After Giovanni spent a few years in college, “He said, ‘I want to come work for you,’ and 25 years later he’s still here,” Franco said. “He is the next generation to carry on Franco the Tailor.” Franco’s other son, Perry, is enjoying a successful career as a supervisor at Comcast.

Over the years, Franco the Tailor grew to be an institution in Tacoma, where it is the only shop of its kind. Providing alteration services for men’s dress and casual attire – from suits to blue jeans – Franco also welcomes women who need tailoring for their suits, jeans and coats (lighter fabrics, for dresses and such, are too delicate for Franco’s equipment).

“We are a tailor for men and women,” Franco says proudly, and from the looks of customer traffic at any time of day, his work certainly appeals to both genders. In fact, Franco says that he has never had to advertise his business – word of mouth from satisfied customers has proven to be the best advertisement there is. “All the years that we’ve been in business, I’ve never spent a dime to advertise. We take pride in whatever we do. We do the job right the first time. My advertisement is I do a good job for you and you tell people about it.”

The bottom line is that if it doesn’t fit right, it’s not going to look right. “I could sell you the best suit in the world and if the sleeves are too long, if it’s too tight or too big, it spoils the look,” as Franco explained. “That’s where we come in. And you don’t have to buy a suit from me. Bring me one from anyplace and we’ll alter it for you. The secret is the fit.”

Franco doesn’t charge extra for necessary rush jobs either, say, for weddings or funerals. “That is how you build a good business and people do appreciate it. If you need it in a hurry, I’m not going to put an overcharge because of that.”

Franco carries a handsome line of men’s imported Italian suits, featuring brands Gianni Manzoni and Hart, Schaffner and Marx, the number one clothier in the United States. Franco’s line of men’s ties all come from Italy, and no two are alike. “You go to Nordstrom and you see 50 ties all displayed in the same color. Mine, they are unique,” as Franco states. His collection of men’s dress shirts is also made up of exclusive Italian imports, and the expert workmanship is obvious.

And, of course, custom-made men’s suits and shirts are a specialty at Franco the Tailor.

“People say, ‘Who are your clients?’ And I say, ‘Everybody,’” from attorneys and doctors to longshoremen and beyond. Among his more famous customers, actor Kevin Kline is a standout, as the actor worked with Franco to learn a convincing Italian accent and gestures for the 1990 film “I Love You to Death,” which was filmed in Tacoma and around the Puget Sound.

In all honesty, everyone in town seems to know Franco but that’s what happens when you’re a friendly, helpful guy who runs an honest business.
After 55 years in the workforce, the 76-year-old Franco has no plans for retirement soon.

“I enjoy what I’m doing. I enjoy coming to work, talking to people… The days go by so fast. If I stay home, number one I’m going to argue with my wife,” he said with a chuckle, kidding around in his good-natured sense of humor. “And number two, I would get bored. What would I do?

“As long as I am in good health, I’ll come here every day.”

Franco the Tailor is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (except for Saturdays in July and August). Visit Franco the Tailor at 16 N. Tacoma Ave., or call (253) 627-2336.

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