At 77, Steve the Tailor has snipped miles of fabric and sewn millions of stitches to the sartorial delight of customers near and far. That he’s hanging up his hat after more than 40 years as a maker of men’s and women’s clothes is a sad day for those who relish quality craftsmanship.
Steve Papadimitriou opened his shop on Bathurst Street near Bloor in 1970 when there were still other Greek businesses in the neighbourhood. They’ve since moved on but Steve stayed thanks to a loyal base of customers who hailed mainly from the Caribbean and the West Indies.
An odd pairing that might be – Greek and Caribbean, but the community’s black population adored Steve’s handiwork, while he, naturally, appreciated their patronage. The mutual admiration would continue to grow with customers from Jamaica and the States calling Steve to see if he could measure them for another suit or perhaps a whole wardrobe full.
The city’s black celebrities would eventually wind their way to his shop. Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey would send plenty of customers Steve’s way. Fashioning a suit for world heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis in his early career, the boxer’s coach told Steve that Lewis would one day be big. Reggae musician Leroy Sibbles, hurdler Mark McKoy and CBC TV journalist Dwight Drummond, among others, all had clothes fitted and stitched there.
His work was adored thanks to its quality. Steve hand-stitched his clothes and never used patterns. At one point, he was one of the busiest tailors in Toronto hiring a staff of five sewers and making 100 to 150 pairs of pants a week.
When the other Greek businesses still operated in the area, some owners asked Steve how with his much accented English, he could understand his black customers, many of whom spoke with heavy Jamaican accents. Somehow, that was never a problem. The black folks liked his work and he liked them. Besides, he loved his location on Bathurst because it was very safe and very clean. Even after his Greek compatriots moved to the Danforth, Steve believed his shop, above which he and his wife raised three kids, was the best place. “I don’t change with no one,” says Steve.
That decision worked out well for his family. Son Jimmy works as a sales rep at Freeman Real Estate which is just a block away. Jimmy has carried on his father’s eye for design and fashion as he and his brother own three clothing stores throughout the city.
In retirement, Steve will continue visiting his village of Periklea which is in the mountains near the northern border in Greece. He’ll head there for a few months a year to visit his older sister, tinker around in the house he owns and hang out with the villagers. Family and friends will come to stay here and there. Jimmy is visiting for a month. A daughter-in-law plans to pop in as well.
But the burning question on everyone’s mind is will he ever make a suit again?
“You never know,” Steve says. “I prefer not to but maybe.”