Photo by Jeff Hobson

It’s the middle of a gray Wednesday in Tacoma. The darkened sky makes the neon sign reading “Franco the Tailor” shine brightly outside the small shop on Tacoma Avenue. Inside, two men — one older and mustachioed, the other younger and clean-shaven — are hunched over desks, scribbling away.

Franco Marchio and his son, Giovanni, are men of taste and class. The racks of stunning wool suits hanging in their shop stand as a testament to the family’s impressive legacy, while the intoxicating pull of nostalgia helps transport customers to a simpler time.

Franco moved to Tacoma from Calabria, Italy, 60 years ago with little but his recently acquired tailoring skills and his new wife, Rosetta — a Tacoman he had met while she was visiting family in Italy.

Six months after arriving in the City of Destiny, Franco opened his first shop. Located at Commerce and Ninth streets, Franco’s quickly became a Tacoma institution.

Franco became so popular that when the movie I Love You to Death — featuring Kevin Kline as a pizzamaker — was being filmed in Tacoma in the 1990s, the directors wanted to know whether anyone in town could teach Kline to talk and gesture like a real Italian. Without hesitation, city officials pointed them toward Franco’s, where the tailor spent days shaping Kline into his protégé.

No advertisements were necessary to bring business to Franco’s, and the economic recessions — and more recently the coronavirus pandemic — that closed down never threatened the family business.

“We are a well-established business with a great clientele,” Franco said. Apparently, word of mouth and the draw of beautifully made suits have been enough to keep the shop busy and full of eager customers.

Franco said he doesn’t have plans to retire — working tirelessly keeps him “youthful and out of Rosetta’s hair.” And besides, he loves his work.

“The best part about my job is making people feel happy and confident in themselves. My suits make people feel that way,” he said.

Some of the suits hanging in his shop are imported from Milan, the fashion capital of Italy, but many are handmade by Franco or Giovanni. For years, the presidents (and their spouses) at the University of Puget Sound in North Tacoma have been dedicated patrons.

Though the business itself is a legacy, Franco said his personal legacy is his son, who plays an important role in the maintenance of such a busy shop. Giovanni, or “John,” attended college, but after a few years, he cut his college career short, opting instead to work for his father in the family business.

“He’s still here after 25 years,” Franco said. “I said to him, ‘When you take over, you should rename the business Giovanni the Tailor.’ But he said no one would come.”

Franco’s has become a household name in Tacoma and a staple of many area closets. Now located on Tacoma Avenue in the Stadium District, Franco’s represents all that is Tacoma business: charm, legacy, and a clientele that would be lost without it.

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