June 1, 2007
By NIRAJ CHOKSHI, Courant Staff Writer
After 34 years as a tailor to Hartford's elite, Alvin Bell is finally hanging it all up.
Bell on Thursday closed the doors to his 30 State House Square shop - where he's been since 1994 - and today flies to retirement in Jamaica.
Born in northern Jamaica and trained in London, he tailored clothes for many of Hartford's most powerful people, including countless business people, lawyers, judges, police and politicians. Bell's shop was frequented by the likes of former Hartford Mayor Carrie Saxon Perry; Doris Sugarman, executive director of the Connecticut Forum; and state Sen. Eric Coleman. For nearly 30 years, Bell had the contract to handle alterations for the Hartford Police Department.
Though his skill kept Bell's customers coming back, they seem likely to miss the man as much as his services.
"I'm going to miss him," said Bruce Louden, a Hartford attorney who has known Bell for 30 years. "I have his card ... and I'm confident that we will be in touch in the years to come." Louden has celebrated many holidays with Bell and considers him family.
Bell's customers agree that he was superbly skilled at what he did, and it was his ability to pull through in an emergency that made him such an asset.
"I can remember a real emergency, a broken zipper or something, where I'd be waiting in his dressing room while he repaired it for me," Sugarman said.
Mooyong Lee, who, with his wife, Younghee Lee, has owned Galaxy Jewelers across from Bell's shop since 1994, attributed Bell's dedication to his being a workaholic. It's a characterization that Bell accepts.
"That's me, that's me. Twenty-four hours a day," Bell said. "This is my life.
And that's the reason Bell is retiring.
"It's about time to pack it up and live a much easier, quiet, more peaceful, relaxing way of life," Bell said.
The deaths of his mother and one of his daughters two years ago contributed to his decision to retire. After his mother died in August 2005, he flew to Jamaica for the funeral. On his return after an extended stay, his daughter, Carolyn, was supposed to pick him up at the airport. But she was killed the night before - on Sept. 30 - by a drunken driver.
Carolyn had handled the administrative side of Bell's business, and after her death he began rethinking things.
"After she passed on, I started to take a back step," he said. Eventually, he decided it was time to put down his shears, thread and needles.
Bell is retiring to a home 2 miles from his hometown of Deeside, Jamaica. He was born there in 1934 and credits his mother, a dressmaker by trade, with nurturing his interest in tailoring.
Bell went to London in 1954 and attended tailoring college, married his now former wife and had four children.
He moved to Hartford in 1968 after his wife, a nurse, secured a job at Hartford Hospital. He worked as a tailor for the downtown clothier Stackpole Moore Tryon. Eventually his ambition - and Tryon - led him to open his own shop.
"Because of his encouragement ... and because of my intentions, I just decided to go on my own," Bell said. "It's just my ability and my ambition."
Bell opened his first shop in 1973. Over the years, he worked out of three locations on Pratt Street before settling at his last shop in State House Square in 1994.
Always thinking of his customers is what made Bell such a sought-after tailor and it's a quality he maintained to the end.
"It's sweet for me to leave for retirement, but it's bitter to leave my customers behind," Bell said. "I'm really sorry that I'm leaving them because I know they rely on me."
His customers feel the same way, but they agree that he deserves his long-overdue retirement.
"I just think he's tired, you know he's ready for a new phase of his life," Louden said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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