A dozen years ago, I got a suit. I hadn’t owned one in a very long time. It was dark blue, made in Montreal, and I bought it from Sid Leon on James Street North.

Sid knew I wasn’t much for suits, and probably wouldn’t be wearing it much. But he wanted me to look good. "For the price, you can’t beat this one," he said. I was a happy customer, and a few years later I sent my son to him, too.

Sid was a sweetheart, and nobody had downtown credentials like he did. He died the this week in his shop, which is entirely appropriate. But he went young, age 67.

I walk past his shop each time I head to the CBC newsroom and I’m wishing I’d stopped in there lately. I usually turned to see if I could spot him at the back by his desk.

He was a tall man, good smile, tailor’s pins stuck in the knot of his tie. And he always had a measuring tape draped around his neck. He didn’t need it though. He could eyeball you in a flash – 42 chest, 34 waist.


Irving's Famous Clothes, which Leon took over from his father in the 1970s, is one of the oldest businesses on James Street North. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

After all, he was born to this. The sign over the door says Irving’s Famous Clothes. That was his dad, who opened the shop at James and Rebecca in 1948. It began, up the street at King and James, in 1915. That location was on the second floor and the slogan was "Walk Upstairs and Save Ten." Ten per cent, that is.

Sid listened to the on-again, off-again talk of restoring the Lister Block – and had his doubts about it all. It’s nice he lived to see the lights come on again.

As for the whole renaissance of James North, Sid was pleased. But who knows how much good the new arts on the street did for a tailor.

He had no back-room sweatshop. It was Sid with the scissors, Sid running the sewing machine, Sid letting out the waist on your dress pants.

And Sid sewing crests on police uniforms. He had bid for the job, and had to go low to win it. But that’s what it took to put some cash in the till when downtown was at its lowest.


Police uniforms hang on a rack inside Irving's Famous Clothes in downtown Hamilton. The shop does tailoring for the Hamilton police. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

I stopped in regularly to get a read on the core from Sid. And he wouldn’t be shy in those hard years about saying how bad things were.

But never, ever did I hear him even suggest he might leave the street he knew so well.

Each spring I lead a group for the Goodwill Tastes of Downtown restaurant tour. And often I would have my people file into Sid's shop to hear a few choice words. He always managed to come up with a great little speech on the spot. And a joke, usually ethnic.

I wanted my tour group, mostly visitors from the suburbs, to know the real downtown.

And Sid was that, a trooper of a tailor who would not quit the core.

Paul.Wilson@cbc.ca | @PaulWilsonCBC

Read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson here.