Joseph A. Sergi
Old World-Trained Tailor Known
As a young man, he stitched the seams and hemmed the cuffs worn by comedian George Burns, film director Frank Capra and other members of Hollywood royalty.
Working in a shop on the famed Sunset Boulevard, Joseph A. Sergi spent five years dressing the movie community's elite in hand-cut, hand-sewn suits of the best available fabrics. For the rest of his life, he did the same for hundreds of Pittsburghers who counted on him to make them look their best.
"There was never any question of the quality of work you'd get from him," said District Justice Charlie McLaughlin, whose office and courtroom at 736 Brookline Boulevard, is two doors away from Mr. Sergi's modest tailor shop. "It was amazing, the number of people who weren't from the neighborhood who came to him because of his fine reputation."
With his mouth bristling with pins and classical music wafting in the background as he measured and sewed, Mr. Sergi spent more than seven decades developing and maintaining that reputation as an Old-World-trained craftsman who settled for nothing less than perfect.
Mr. Sergi continued to serve his customers almost up until the time of his death Thursday at age 84 of chronic lung disease in Mercy Hospital. Even after his advancing illness made it difficult for him to come into the shop in recent months, Mr. Sergi's wife, Alberta, kept the shop open and took garments to their Brookline home for him to work on there.
A native of Acadie, Itay, Mr. Sergi attended school there and learned his tailoring skills in a shop run by his uncles. He immigrated to the United States when he was 19, joining a brother who was working as a waiter at the William Penn Hotel, Downtown.
In a 1984 interview with The Pittsburgh Press, Mr. Sergi said his brother was acquainted with Harry J. Russo, who at that time was a well-known tailor in Pittsburgh. Although Mr. Sergi couldn't speak English, he went to see Russo and was hired after demonstrating how well he could shape and sew fabrics.
In 1938, Russo moved to Hollywood and persuaded Mr. Sergi to follow him by promising to eventually help Mr. Sergi open his own shop. Mr. Sergi's wife, also a native of Italy whose family also settled in Pittsburgh, joined him there after they were married in 1941, according to their daughter, Edith Mierzwa of Brookline.
Russo's tailor shop at Sunset and Vine Avenue, quickly attracted Burns, Capra, actor/director Orson Welles, bandleader Artie Shaw and entertainers whose public image required them to look sharp. But despite the glamorous clientele, Mr. Sergi returned to Pittsburgh in 1943 because his wife had grown homesick for her family.
"He didn't complain. Ne never complained about anything," said Mierzwa. "Family was everything to him."
He went to work for Kaufmann's, joining a crew of tailors who altered suits and coats purchased by customers of the department store. He also worked for Trau and Trau clothiers and served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
In 1952, Mr. Sergi opened the simple shop on Brookline Boulevard where he would work for nearly 50 years. Armied with a tape measure and an old-fashioned treadle sewing machine that he refused to replace, he developed a clientele that included attorneys, business leaders and people from all around the region who bought and appreciated a fine wardrobe.
"I knew there were military people who maintained contact and sent uniforms to him" long after they'd left Western Pennsylvania, McLaughlin said. "He was that good."
He always smile and waved when you went by. If you stuck your head in to say hello, he always had beautiful opera music playing," said retired city police Sgt. John O'Connor of Brookline, who was a longtime customer. "To me, he was what Brookline merchants were all about - people who knew and did their best for their customers."
Mr. Sergi was a member of the Church of the Resurrection in Brookline.
In addition to his wife and Mierzwa, he is survived by two other daughters, Shirley Berchok of Elizabeth Township and Patti Klos of Bethel Park; seven grandchildren, seven great grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. Burial will be a Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Peters.
* Copied from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - November 18, 2000 *
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