NUTLEY, N.J. — For decades, a New Jersey tailor has been in business, dressing some of the area’s most recognizable TV figures and entertainers.
When the pandemic hit, business was bleak.
Now he’s also working to ensure the future of his family and of custom-made clothing.
As CBS2’s Astrid Martinez reported Wednesday, you could say the tailoring business is in Joe Camelia’s blood.
“He opened up a store in those days, I really don’t remember, it was the ’30’s or ’40’s. He put a key in the door. There was no government in those days,” Camelia said.
For generations, Joe Camelia, Jr., has continued a family tradition that began in the 1800s in Newark, New Jersey. His father Joe Camelia, Sr., was brought over from Italy to the U.S. at 11, and abandoned.
It was his future father-in-law who taught him the trade.
“Now I’ll get… now I’ll get emotional,” Camelia said. “I’m proud of my father, because my grandfather taught him how to make suits. And of course, the language was there. And of course, I eventually met my mother and… Italian. Excuse me. Anyway, that’s how my father started. And then he was also emotional, compassionate.”
Those attributes were key to helping the family become a success, and they were all passed down to Joe. For generations, the family has sewn suits for some of the country’s most recognizable entertainers.
“That’s how I originally met Ali, who was an absolute sweetheart,” Camelia said.
He has also helped dress some TV tough guys.
“Stevie Van Zandt, Stevie Schirripa, Stevie Buscemi, made only a couple of suits for him. Castelluccio was in the beginning, he was starting to fool around with Tony’s wife, if you remember. Who else? Of course, the big man James [Gandolfini]. James, well, James came because he liked the way Stevie looks. He says ‘Well, you never wanted to meet the guy. You’re going to your fancy guy in New York and blah, blah, blah.’ And Jimmy and I hit it off right off right off the bat, right here in the store.”
The 82-year-old has also dressed some real-life tough guys.
“I never met John [Gotti]. I never met John, was always a different guy that came in and picked up and whatever,” Camelia said.
But when the COVID pandemic hit, people were working remotely, and in-person events were canceled, which left no need for tailoring.
“He’s the best. He’s the best around – 82 years and he’s still going strong,” said customer Harold Welsh.
The friends Joe has made throughout the decades rallied around him to help the business stay open. He also received some federal pandemic assistance and now with business opening back up, Joe is finally seeing a steady flow of customers. He’s working on teaching a new generation.
“We brought in people from Ecuador, Dominican Republic. My main guy is from the Dominican republic. What are you gonna do? So I am going to try to help them,” Camelia said.
To make sure the craft, and the tailor-made family legacy, is stitched into history.