Tailor shops emerging as mall alternative during recession

Phyllis Sullivan moves like a shot through her alterations shop on Boundary Street, in Beafort, SC., a good-natured blur of bright smile and homespun advice that travels from sewing machine to hemming machine to serge machine and back again.

The owner of Andy's Secrets in uptown Beaufort doesn't have time to slow down.

Nearly 55 customers are walking through her door each week, up from around 40 per week at this time last year. With the economic recession making people's closets a more popular place to find clothes than the mall, Sullivan's had no shortage of work.

"I raise hems and drop hems, taper sides, shorten sleeves, shorten jackets, attach buttons, attach bows, everything," Sullivan said, catching her breath on a recent morning before the shop opened. "We're turning around like a top."

In Beaufort County, a steady stream of military uniforms to mend has kept more than a dozen local alterations shops buzzing for years.

Some tailors and seamstresses say they've been finding, however, that increasing numbers of civilian customers who want their clothing tweaked are keeping business booming during traditionally slower months.

Instead of tossing out that old pair of ragged, ripped jeans and buying new ones, consumers are turning to craftsmen that can stitch them back to life -- often for less than half of what they cost in the first place.

Tina Cover, manager of Susie's Needle and Thread on Boundary Street, said she's seen an increase in garments dropped off by both women and men who scoured sales racks for bargains and bought items that weren't even their size, knowing they could be nipped and tucked tofit.

"When you go into a clothing store, you're not always going to find something that's going to fit your hips, your waist, your legs," Cover said. "It was cheaper for them to actually buy it on sale and get it altered than buying it brand-new."

Mark Abdalla thought he was crazy to buy a pair of slim-fit pants that were one size too big during a shopping trip at Cross Creek Plaza on Robert Smalls Parkway, but the $20 sale price snagged his attention.