Julia and Mario Paloma... A Perfect Fit
Twenty four years ago Alexander’s Alterations and Tailoring opened in Mission Bell Shopping Center. It was one of the first businesses in what was then a busy, bustling shopping plaza. Sadly, Mission Bell started seeing a decline. Alexander’s was one of the last businesses to leave.
But GOOD NEWS!, especially for Alexander’s devoted customers: they’ve opened in a new location, 12751 Ehrlich Road, right across from Ben Hill Middle School.
Julia and Mario Paloma are the couple who keep the sewing machines humming, and keep their marriage humming, as well. Nineteen years ago they watched their new home being built in Phase Three of Carrollwood Village, where they live happily, even closer now to their business.
Of course, the natural question arose: “Why is it named Alexander’s?” That’s their son’s name, a son who is now a resident in Anesthesiology at Tampa General Hospital. Their business started to boom just as their son was born. The Palomas had formerly worked out of their home, beginning 34 years ago.
“We have customers who used to come to our little house in Temple Terrace, who still come here.” Several generations of families have followed them loyally, so you know the Palomas must be doing something right.
This is the kind of story we Americans love, as it features folks from another country, in this case Colombia, who have thrived in the United States. Julia and Mario came to New York in l968, and literally, learned their craft by working at it. They have always worked together. “It’s hard to work with your spouse. You have your ups and downs, but that’s not a big deal,” observes Mario. “Except when he doesn’t listen,” amends Julia, laughing.
The Palomas’ children are a source of great pride to them.. Their daughter Sandra is an attorney in Tampa, whose private practice consists of 90% Hispanic clients. Mario does a little public relations for her, on the side, obviously a labor of love. When the couple takes a little time out for a social life, sometimes attending a concert or going out to dinner, it’s their family they share it with.
“So what is your typical tailoring job?” I ask.
“We do whatever customers bring to the door,” Mario answers. As if in answer, Julia rises from her sewing machine and brings over a wedding dress she has been working on. “This will be the second time I have taken this dress up,” Julia says. “The bride-to-be keeps losing weight..With brides and pregnant ladies, you have to have a lot of patience.”
“We remodel clothes, make them smaller, larger. In an emergency, we can do it in 24 hours,” Mario continues. “But I have to tell you about our record. A man came in who had lost 150 pounds. He had 25 business suits he wanted altered. We were so happy to see him lose so much weight that we said ‘Let’s do it.” He had lost five sizes, so it took three fittings. It was a great challenge.”
Two more tailors helped the Palomas with that job. Normally, though, just one more person plus Julia and Mario handle all the work. When they need help beyond that, they call on churches and other institutions. They have employed part-time tailors from Russia, China. But there’s no language barrier, Mario says. “We communicate with our garments.”
Hanging on a rack nearby were several elaborate cocktail dresses, glittering with sequins and beading. Right beside them was a black leather Harley vest. When I remarked about the diversity Mario boasted, “My wife is very creative. She can work on any kind of fabric. And we have clients that range from office workers to professional men and women. You know what’s the beauty of this business? Making people happy.”
As we had chatted several customers had come in and been shown to a fitting room, further evidence of Alexander’s success. Their hours are 10 ‘til 6 Monday through Friday, 10 ‘til 4 on Saturday. Neither of the Palomas plan to retire. “As long as I have the strength to work, I will keep on,” Mario ended the interview. I knew he spoke for both of them, because they’re a team, a perfect fit.
- Sandra Harrington