He’s Sew Fine

This is the debut of Andy Lippman’s “Around Town” column. A former Los Angeles bureau chief for the Associated Press, Lippman will write weekly about some South Pasadena person, business, issue or trend. 

Antranig Karaminassian at his sewing machine at “Anthony The Tailor” on Mission Street. He’s run the shop with an artist’s eye since 1985. Photo by Henk Friezer

Antranig (Anthony) Karaminassian has achieved his American dream.

“God makes miracles if we pray,” the balding, white-haired 85-year-old says with a shy smile. “We came here as immigrants with three small children. If a person works with all his heart, God will give him success.”

Since 1985, the professional stage for Karaminassian’s success — his store — measures about 25 feet by 8 feet. He works alone six days a week at Anthony The Tailor at 1520 Mission St. in South Pasadena.

He still has two sewing machines, and one table is filled with rubberized containers with many more colors of thread than Karaminassian has years, plus an overflowing box of zippers. His customers tell him they can’t find anyone who can put a button hole in their jackets like he can. 

“I even hand sew it,” he points out. 

Tailoring, Karaminassian explains, is like being a doctor. If a doctor makes a mistake, the patient gets sicker or dies. If a tailor makes a mistake, the suit or skirt can be damaged or ruined.

He scorns tailoring at most department stores or cleaners. If they were that good, he points out, the people would be working at a tailor shop.

That’s why he works alone, saying it is hard to find help that will give the quality he demands in his work.

Tailoring suit jackets provides a real challenge. Men’s jackets often come big and ill-fitting. Some of them must be tailored from the shoulder to the sleeve, and include alterations to the jacket pocket.

Women’s suits often come better fitted, but he does alternations on them too, along with pants and skirts.

He admits that things are a lot quieter than they were when he opened and sometimes worked 16 hours a day.

“We no longer have that much work,’’ he says.

Now, there are days when no one comes, and it is just him and classical music playing on the radio.

The racks where the finished suits and skirts hang are not nearly full.

“I pray that God will send customers,” he says. “We live with hope. We work hard and hope that God will supply customers.”

Many of his customers have retired or died, or no longer wear suits.

“I’m not as busy as I was,” he says. “Everything has changed. It’s hard to expect that things would stay the same.”

Some of his new customers expect his expertise to come at a cheaper price, but he says most customers still appreciate the quality he puts into his work. He loves the challenge of working with expensive men’s or women’s clothes.

It doesn’t hurt in today’s world that, in addition to word of mouth, there are also good online reviews. Two reviews on Yelp included the sentence” “Anthony himself is the real deal; an old-school traditionally trained tailor who has practiced his trade for decades.”

Karaminassian and his wife Rebecca, now 74, both had the same dream when they were growing up in Beirut, Lebanon. They wanted to come to America.

He followed his brother into the tailoring business after finishing seventh grade at 15.

“We heard about America,” he recalls, “the land of opportunity. I had a big desire to come to America and make a good living.

“I have a good life, and a good house, and I’ve raised a family. Americans are basically kind people. They appreciate it when you do a good job.”

Karaminassian, his wife and three children — now grown – flew to America in 1982 and stayed with his wife’s relatives. Other relatives extolled Pasadena, so he brought the family West and opened a store on Fair Oaks.

A few years later, a nephew and he took a drive around South Pasadena. They saw a tailor shop on Mission Street that had been owned by an Italian man for 15 years.

There was no “for sale” sign, but the nephew said, “What do you have to lose?” The answer was that the owner told him if he could sell his home, the business was his.

“It was like a miracle,” Karaminassian recalls.

Now, 35, years later, the miracle lives on, and so does Karaminassian. He has no plans to retire.

“I have no hobbies,” he explains. “I love to work.” 

His wife is still working, too. After age 50, Rebecca, who had been a nurse, took courses — driving 50 miles each way — and became a nurse practitioner.

When the customers come, Karaminassian is ready for them in the same way he has been for over 35 years. He still has his sewing machines, his threads … and his knowledge.

And he still has that dream he had when he was a boy — that dream that America is the land of opportunity.

“I thank God for America,’’ he says.

“God bless this country and keep it safe and prosperous.”