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Archive for August, 2013

Garment maker threads his last needle

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013
steve the tailor

Lennox Lewis                                                   Donovan Bailey 


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.”

Realtor shaped by past careers

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

As a real estate sales rep for Freeman Real Estate for eight years, it took Janelle a few circuitous years to find her true calling. Right out of university she worked as a flight attendant and then as a customer service rep for a government agency. Working with people is the common factor in all her careers.

But it wasn’t until she sold her own home through an outside realtor that Janelle realized that selling and buying homes might be for her. Janelle’s realtor suggested she give it a try so she did and she hasn’t looked back.

“When you’re in sales you really need to believe in what you’re selling to be successful at it,” says Janelle. “I come to appreciate every property to the point where I can sell it because I actually believe in it as a product and I believe there is a buyer for everything. You have to find the right fit.”

While Janelle truly loved her work with Canada 3000 airlines, getting to travel the world and stay in nice hotels, it was a career well suited for her previous life as a carefree single woman. Today, as the married mom of two young kids, real estate offers the 40-year-old financial stability, a chance to build her career and the flexibility to shop for groceries on a Tuesday afternoon while the children are at day care.

Each day brings a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for Janelle because she truly enjoys her work, which differs all the time. “Because of my experience working in the airline industry I was accustomed to working odd hours. I enjoy that.”

Janelle specializes in residential real estate in downtown Toronto, Etobicoke and Mississauga. She hooked up with the Freeman team after presenting the winning offer on a Freeman listing. “My buyers got the property and within a day or two Nancy Freeman called and said you need to come work here.”

She loves the not-too-big, not-too-small size of Freeman’s Bathurst Street headquarters which has a “lovely office environment” and a staff that makes her feel like she’s part of a team effort.

Janelle knows her former careers each contributed to the realtor she is today. In fact, life and work experience are necessary requirements for someone thinking about a career in real estate because, she emphasizes, the work is a whole lot more than simply sales. “You need life and street experience,” she says. “You need a thick skin to withstand the rejection and you need to know how to handle the many different types of personalities you encounter.”

Janelles Website: http://www.janelleweiss.com/ 


The Best Little Corner Store in the City

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Some say working with the public can be a thankless job, while others derive a sense of pride in it.

The latter is definitely the case for Helen and Steve Moon who’ve owned and operated Steven’s Groceries at the corner of Bathurst and Follis since 2007.

The convenience store, which is open from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, offers customers a soup-to-nuts range of products from Christmas trees in December to cut flowers and plants in summer to sewing needles, laundry soap and even obscure little finds that you won’t find in other stores.

Classical music and kind words of welcome greet customers who enter the store. The space is surprisingly clean and tidy given its abundant stock. Helen and Steve enjoy marking many holidays and celebrations such as Canada Day and St. Patrick’s Day by decorating their shop with appropriate flags, balloons and banners. It’s easy to see why the Toronto Star voted the store as one of the best in the city.

But Helen, a native of Seoul, Korea, credits her success back to her customers.

“Our relationship with the customers is important,” says Helen, 55, who was a professor of art education in Korea. “Every customer is my friend. We give them poinsettias every Christmas and they give me Christmas cards, and they give me pictures of their families and their pets and we put them up in the store.”

Because of the store’s location in Seaton Village, not far from the University of Toronto’s stomping grounds, many of its customers are students, professors, doctors and lawyers – all very nice people, says Helen, and the reason why “we are a good match.”

Helen and Steve and their two grown children moved to Canada 13 years ago. Finding this corner store with the name Steven already on the sign was a happy coincidence for the Moons, who had been looking to purchase a convenience store for some time.

The store, which is adjacent to Freeman Real Estate Ltd., was the brainchild of my grandparents Max and Sarah Hartstone, who decided to open a dry goods store there in 1959. Named after their first grandson, the store – known then as Steven’s Milk – served the needs of the neighbourhood’s largely working-class immigrants. As its customers changed and evolved so, too, did the store moving its merchandise into organics and specialty foods.

Sarah, Max and their son Marvin worked longs hours at the store, which was open till midnight seven days a week. Max died at 75 in 1982, while my grandmother lived to the ripe old age of 98. Marvin decided to close down the store in the mid nineties after suffering a serious heart attack. His retirement and his crusty but kind manner were celebrated in a Toronto Star column.

Steven’s Milk provided many young men in the neighbourhood with their first jobs as Max and Sarah liked to hire customers, even those who had shoplifted in the store, to help with the endless chores associated with running a corner store.

Because my grandfather virtually lived in the store, it was there that he forged relationships, ate meals and performed odd jobs that most people performed at home. A tight relationship with Sealtest Milk executives led to daily milk-less lunches in the back of the store. On the menu? What else but pastrami, herring and good old wholesome scotch.














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