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Holding Court with Needle and Thread

GINO 7Grace Maalouf Gino di Girolamo speaks with a customer at his East 14th Street shop, Royal Tailor.

Gioacchino di Girolamo has a punctured nail. For the first time in decades, the needle of his black iron sewing machine has slipped straight through his finger, and the Royal Tailor of 14th Street is not quite sure how it happened. Maybe he fell asleep at the wheel. After all, he keeps it spinning just about every weekday from about six in the evening till sunrise, and all day on the weekends. Six days a week, nearly every week, and yet —

“Never in my life this happened,” he says of the wound. And it’s been more than 45 years that the bespectacled man from Palermo, Sicily, has been steadily stitching shirts and dresses, hemming pants and re-fastening buttons for the New York City masses unraveling at the seams. In all that time, he hasn’t strayed far from Avenue A; he has worked in four different shops, all here in a two-block radius. And as the East Village has prospered, turned violent and then fallen peaceful again around him, he has watched it all from behind an ever-present pile of clothing waiting to be mended.

“I don’t know. I work hard,” he says about the possibility of having dozed off. “But, thank God.”

Business is good, though that might be incidental. For the 75-year-old Mr. di Girolamo — Gino to his friends and customers — the long hours and open door that have made him a cornerstone on this avenue aren’t about money.
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