ENCINITAS — For nearly 33 years, Joseph Granata has made sure that the suits, jackets, pants and clothes of generations of Encinitas residents had the perfect fit, with the precision that could only come from an Italian-born and trained tailor.
Just weeks before his 82nd birthday, however, Granata is hanging up his shears, as he recently announced his retirement and closed his venerable shop, Granata Custom Tailor Alterations.
The shop’s final day was on Feb. 26.
“It’s time to stop now,” Granata said on Wednesday, smiling as he waxed poetically about his lifelong craft and his love for the Encinitas community. “I am very proud to say I’ve been working in Encinitas all these years, they were the best years of my life and the best people.”
Granata, who was born in Corsenza, Italy in 1934, learned the tailor trade shortly after World War II, when his father took him to the local tailor to become an apprentice.
In those days, Granata said, it was customary for three to four young boys to apprentice under local barbers, tailors and other tradesmen.
“The reason my father did it is because he didn’t want to see me on the street,” Granata said.
Granata’s family immigrated to the United States shortly after the war, first to Chicago, then to Los Angeles and then to Solana Beach, where he opened up his first menswear store.
Finally, in 1983, Granata opened up his first business in Encinitas along Encinitas Boulevard. Three years later, he relocated the business to The Lumberyard, the large shopping center on the southern edge of downtown Encinitas that is home to a number of mom-and-pop boutiques, jewelers, restaurants and other small businesses.
All the while, Granata brought the skill and artful flair of Italian tailoring to Encinitas, something that he took pride in doing.
“To be a tailor, you need many years. Don’t think you can be a tailor for 10 years and know everything,” Granata said. “The skill has to be in your blood, you have to have a good eye and a good thirst.
“You also have to have to be patient, and you have to treat the people like they are your friend, not your customer,” Granata said.
It was that mantra that made Granata a beloved figure locally, as he created a faithful following of customers that spanned several generations of families.
Granata also contributed to his community by way of his favorite hobby, bocce ball.
Granata helped found the Encinitas Bocce Ball Club, and spearheaded the fundraising effort that raised the $37,000 that built the bocce ball courts at the Boys & Girls Club.
“I started playing bocce when the ball was made of wood,” Granata said, laughing. “You had to keep it in a bucket of water, otherwise, it would break when you played with it the next time. I feel like we were able to do a great thing for the community.”
Granata will have a lot of free time to play bocce ball and do other things during his retirement.
A widower, Granata lives alone in his Carlsbad home, and still plans on doing alterations and custom jobs for his longtime customers from out of his home.
He also plans to spend time with his adult daughters, who live in Carlsbad and San Diego, and said he might visit his home country and the town where he learned the craft that sustained him all of these years, but largely, he wants to stay local.
“Everyone is wanting to come to California, so why should I leave?” he said.
One of his biggest regrets, Granata admits, is that he wasn’t able to pass his craft on to an apprentice, much like how he got his start. In his 32 years in Encinitas, no one ever approached him for an apprenticeship.
“No one came in and said, ‘teach me,’” Granata said. “I wish I had a boy, and I could teach them to be a tailor, it is something beautiful, it is an art.”
Granata said he doesn’t see many custom tailors around anymore, something that he laments. His friends and supporters lament it, too.
“It is horrible,” said Heidi Mann, who has owned the women’s clothing boutique next to Granata’s shop for the past 13 years. She and Granata share coffee in the mornings. “I think it is a byproduct of a generation that has been raised in big-box stores that don’t value the expertise and the craftsmanship of mom-and-pop businesses.”
Mann, who is also leaving The Lumberyard, said she is happy, however, that Granata is able to walk away from his business on his terms.
“He was my best friend here, but I am glad that he will be able to play more bocce,” she said.