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Portland remembers beloved tailor Vange Donatelli

In a city that’s changed a lot over the decades, Donatelli’s Custom Tailor Shop was timeless.

PORTLAND, Maine — The first story I did on Vange Donatelli was in 1986. That year marked the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, and since I’d been asked to do a series of profiles of immigrants in Maine, Mr. Donatelli, as I always called him, came to mind.

He had immigrated to Maine from Italy in the 1960s with very little money and very little understanding of English. In 1972, he started a tailor shop that, in time, became an institution on the crest of Munjoy Hill in Portland. For 50 or 60 hours a week, sometimes more, the hum of a sewing machine could be heard in the backroom as pants were shortened, suits let out or taken in, buttons sewed on, and linings replaced.

Mr. Donatelli and his wife opened a laundromat next door, and their kids helped out with the business. The decades rolled by, but the tailor shop—and Mr. Donatelli himself—remained remarkably unchanged. He was such a fixture that a few years ago he was presented with the key to the city.

Vange Donatelli died two days ago after a period of ill health. I’ll remember him as I saw him so many times: perched in a simple chair, working on one garment after another, talking with friends who had stopped by, getting up to greet customers at the counter, marking the places where he’d alter clothes with chalk, and then heading back to his chair to continue the on-and-off whir of his sewing machine.

He was part of the fabric of Portland, and he will be missed.

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