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TAILOR MADE CRAFTSMAN

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TAILOR MADE CRAFTSMAN

Oscar Sarkes, owner and operator of Oscar’s Tailoring in downtown Manteca, is shown in his work station inside his small but busy shop.

ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The 209


POSTED August 8, 2014 8:25 p.m.



Recessions have come and gone, and still Oscar Sarkes is sewing away.

Some businesses in downtown Manteca around his small shop have flourished and faded away in the last two decades, yet the small, nondescript and almost unobtrusive tailoring shop next to the Post Office on Maple Avenue is still there.

The Baghdad native, who learned everything he knows about tailoring since he was a young boy in the old country, likes to think that “it’s not the location” of his business that has kept his business thriving through the years. It’s because “I’m good (at what I do),” said the amiable owner and operator of Oscar’s Tailoring without being arrogant.

And that’s because he was trained as a tailor. “I made suits and dresses from scratch,” he said. “So alteration to me is what you call piece of cake.”

It’s not that he would not want to sew original suits and dresses. It just costs too much to create an original – mainly because of the time each outfit would involve in making it, he pointed out.

But, like any business, demand directs its economic compass. Alteration happens to be what his clientele are looking for, and that is where Sarkes can easily apply his skill because it’s what he was trained to do professionally. People buy their clothes at Macy’s, JC Penney and other clothing stores and then come to him to make the necessary alterations for a better fit, explained Sarkes. They get a tailored fit and, best of all, they don’t have to gouge their pocketbooks to get the custom look, he said with a smile.

While doing alterations is relatively easy for the professionally trained tailor, he tries to work closely with every client to get the job done to their satisfaction. Throughout the 18 years he has been in business in the same location in downtown Manteca, Sarkes has been happy with the people he has encountered and befriended through his business.

“There are very, very good clients. I like dealing with them, and I try to be honest with them,” said Sarkes who experienced some rough times at the beginning of the year when he lost his wife of 33 years to cancer. Together, he and his late wife worked together and maintained the business – he did the tailoring and she did the bookkeeping. Their union was blessed with two children – son Mark, 33, who graduated from California State University in Fresno and now works as a computer science engineer, and daughter Marcell, 25, who is also at Fresno State.

“Thank God everything is okay,” he said of his still thriving business, evidenced by the customers’ clothes hanging on the walls and everywhere, either done or are in the process of being finished.

 

Brother-in-law in Baghdad was his tailoring mentor

“This business (is something) I learned since I was a kid. I learned from my brother-in-law, Sami Raoul. He is now in Australia working for some company. I learned everything about tailoring from him in Baghdad,” Sarkes said.

Back in his old country, he said, “you go and learn (a trade) from somebody, and either you stay on and work there (after the apprenticeship period) or go and open your own business.”

Sarkes opted for the latter. After years of learning on the job, he opened his own tailoring shop in Baghdad. Over there, tailoring shops are the norm. In a block like the business district on Maple Avenue between Center Street and Yosemite Avenue, there would be easily seven tailors’ and dressmakers’ shops lined up if it were in Baghdad, Sarkes said by illustration.

There is such a high demand for tailor-made clothes in Baghdad that tailors and dressmakers are always busy “especially at Christmas,” he said.

 

Coming to America and the path to a new tailor shop

After several years of running his own tailoring business in Baghdad, “I came here to America,” Sarkes said.

Like many immigrants, he started out by finding a job. His first job was sheet metal work for a company in Sunnyvale. After a while, “I opened a dry cleaning business in Modesto. Then I came to Manteca and bought the business here.”

He has since forgotten the name of the existing tailoring business he bought in the small unit next to Redi-Mark, another family-owned business in downtown Manteca which predates the tailoring shop.

He “looked everywhere” in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties “where I wanted to put a tailoring business.” Finally, his sister-in-law, Najat, suggested for him to come to Manteca where she was living at the time. She still calls Manteca home.

He came to the Family City and met “the people, a lot of friendly people,” which helped make up his mind about opening this tailoring shop here. And, as they say, the rest is history for Sarkes and his tailoring shop.

His tailoring skill is not the only thing that has endeared him with his clients. He has also been a big hit with the children of his clients. While living in Modesto, Sarkes augmented his income by working as a magician. He describes himself as a self-taught magician. At his shop, Sarkes always took the time to entertain the children by performing simple tricks such as making coins disappear and reappear.

“The kids like the magic,” Sarkes said with a broad smile.

The one-man shop, Oscar’s Tailoring, is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and can be reached at 209.824.0823.

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