MADEIRA, Ohio -- In an era of fast fashion and mass production, 83-year-old Romualdo Pelle takes pride in producing garments one stitch at a time inside the Miami Avenue shop that bears his name.
He and a small staff have produced bespoke, delicately tailored garments beneath the handsome navy awning for half a century, measuring them to the exacting specifications of clients such as the late Neil Armstrong, actor Robert Redford and Cintas chairman Richard Farmer.
It's challenging, painstaking work. Pelle fully intends to do it for as long as he lives -- maybe even longer.
"The time when I will retire is when I close my eyes and I say, ‘Well, God calls me, and I better go to the other side and do some work over there,'" he said.
The land of the living will miss him when that happens. In a 2008 article, The Wall Street Journal counted Pelle among only a handful of "master tailors" -- those who had built their skills through a traditional apprenticeship and emphasis on handcrafting -- left in the United States.
Pelle came by those skills in Italy, where he grew up poor under fascist rule and was deemed too physically fragile to perform hard labor. A career in tailoring was a better fit, his godfather told him then.
That career brought him to Pogue's department store after he immigrated to the United States in 1960, and it enabled him to strike out on his own by the end of the decade. The first years of Romualdo the store depended on Romualdo the man working up to 80 hours each week, practicing his English the entire time.
In the following 50 years, Pelle built a loyal clientele that admired his precise, luxurious work and his sharp memory for their specific needs.
"I wouldn't do anything else except this," he said.
Although he remains omnipresent behind the scenes and inside the elegant shop, Pelle no longer owns his eponymous business. Tim Brock and Chris Berre, two long-time customers-turned-co-owners, have dedicated themselves to ensuring the approach to craftsmanship that produced Pelle can survive him.
"Just knowing the fact that at 83 he still comes to work every day and has the same attitude that he had 50 years ago … we really enjoy that," Brock said. "It makes Chris and myself work even harder because we want to preserve that legacy for the next 50 years."