Sat, Nov 12 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Richard Peña
We were saddened to hear of the passing of Tony Maio. Maio, a longtime resident of the South Bay, died quietly a few days ago after a short illness. He was a few days short of 95 years old.
The other day I mused about Tony for some time, quite simply because I had known him for so many years. He was one of the mainstays in the early heyday of Third Avenue.
He was the tailor in the only men's store on the avenue and, I dare say, was the principal dresser of the well-dressed man in the South Bay.
I recall spending some time in the basement of the store while Tony worked on newly purchased suits. He could take a suit off the rack, make a few alterations and the man could walk out of the shop with a suit that would vie with any hand- sewn apparel. He would make the suit fit like a glove.
Tony Maio's career reads like something out of a story book. He was born on Nov. 23, 1916, in the small Italian town of Fulscado. At age 12 he left his native Italy and immigrated to this country, settling in Cincinnati where he honed his tailoring skills at numerous jobs. He married the late Jean Centrullo in 1943 and entered the Army. His son, Tony Junior, a retired Sweetwater district teacher was born about this time.
After the war, Maio moved his family to Chula Vista where he was to live and work for the rest of his life. He had various tailoring jobs in San Diego, most notably at the old Walker-Scott store. To supplement his income he took on moonlighting jobs, mostly at the Highlander men's store. Eventually the Highlander hired him as a full-time tailor, then a salesman and finally the manager of the store.
Back in those early days Maio, I recall, was the one who told me that a gentleman must never be without a blue suit in his wardrobe. Never can tell when you might need one in an emergency, is probably what he told me in a serious tone. But then to liven the discussion he probably added that I might be invited to a wedding or a reception or something like that. He would say this with a smile. And, as I recall, he sold me more than one blue suit.
By odd coincidence a parallel to Maio's story came to light this past week. I subscribe to a computer program called A Word a Day. It is authored by Anu Garg and consists of five words a week, most of the time words related to one another. One of the words last week was "pinstripe," derived from the woolen material of which good suits are made but taking on the meaning of someone of means in a respected profession, a lawyer, for example, simply because such a person is apt to wear a pinstripe suit.
Some years ago my wife and I made an extended motor trip that covered much of the New England area. While on this trip we visited with a friend in the community of Hornel in upper New York state. The family owned and operated a men's store similar to the Highlander and he talked me into purchasing a gray pinstripe suit.
The pinstripe suit still has a place of honor in my closet. I take it out and wear it on special occasiond, though I daresay such occasiond are rather rare. I never told Tony that I had this suit even though it is right next to the mandatory blue suit espoused by him. While reading and thinking about Maio I wondered what he would have said of the pinstripe. He probably would merely have looked me in the eye and said, "Does it fit?"
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