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Pandemic Threatens 'Lost Art' Of Tailoring, Alterations

Kiki Spounias of Kiki's Alterations in La Jolla works at a sewing machine, June 30, 2020.
Matt Hoffman
Kiki Spounias of Kiki's Alterations in La Jolla works at a sewing machine, June 30, 2020.

Online review service Yelp estimates around 29,000 California businesses on its site have closed since the pandemic started — more than half of them for good.

Kiki's Alterations in La Jolla is one local businesses trying to avoid becoming a statistic. The shop deals with everything from simple button repairs to fitting elegant wedding dresses and suits.

"This is our livelihood," said owner Tammy Spounias, who estimated business is down for that livelihood by around 75%. "My mom started it thirty years ago and I don’t want to close, it’s going to be a last resort."


Kiki's is named for her mother, 83 year-old Kiki Spounias, who came to the U.S. after growing up in Greece.

"I learned from Greece the tailoring," Kiki said. "I’m very happy what I’m doing."

Pandemic Threatens 'Lost Art' Of Tailoring, Alterations

Tammy Spounias has recently taken over majority of the business' day-to-day responsibilities, but her mother can still be found in the shop.

"Now I’m more easier going," Kiki said. "I work less — I come late — I leave early."

When the pandemic first hit, the shop closed for three months, at the worst possible time of year.


"March, April, May, busiest season — May is the biggest that’s where I make most of my income and we were closed then," Tammy said.

Kiki's reopened in June, but business is still been way down.

"Income doesn't pay the rent, but I do stay open because I don't want to lose my customer base," Tammy said. "I want to let them know that I’m here, that I’m open, that I'm ready to do work — it’s just no one’s travelling and no one’s going anywhere."

Tammy said many of her industry colleagues in San Diego county are also seeing a drastic reduction in business.

RELATED: $17 Million Now Available To Help Struggling San Diego County Businesses

Kiki's did get a PPP loan, which helped cover some expenses. The owners are also applying for a county relief grant. But the possibility of closing is something weighing heavily on everyone.

"Sometimes I cannot sleep at night. I’m thinking, 'What’s going to happen the next day?'" Kiki said. "I call Tammy and say, 'Anything happen with the business?' 'Oh mom don’t worry one or two people came.'"

Kiki's get a lot of business from weddings. The pandemic put many on hold, but some ceremonies are going on.

"I came in for my second fitting and getting ready for my wedding August 22nd — it’s coming up," said Allie Fahner, who worked with Tammy and Kiki to get the perfect fit for her wedding dress.

Fahner and her fiance David Adams had been planning a nearly 200-person wedding for more than a year.

"It was going to be the whole ordeal, but [we] had to make the tough decision to push it off just a little bit," Fahner said.

Now the couple is opting for a small backyard ceremony, with plans for a bigger bash sometime next year.

Tammy said the majority of her clients have opted to delay their weddings, while others are going smaller -a decision that also affects her business.

"Less groomsmen, less bridesmaids — where we get a lot of the business through the bridesmaids," she said. "And if less people are going they’re not going as formal."

The pandemic has brought some other changes. Some consultations are now done over video chat. And Tammy has pivoted to making face coverings.

"I’ve made masks for brides, so I use some of the fabric from the wedding dress," she said.

With the pandemic showing no signs of going away anytime soon, the shop is hoping the entire alteration and tailoring industry will make it through the pandemic.

"There is a need for alterations," Tammy said. "I think I just have to stick it out probably another year and hopefully we’ll have some funding to keep going to keep us open, because tailor shops are needed. Clothes aren’t going to mend themselves — it’s a lost art."

Pandemic Threatens ‘Lost Art’ Of Tailoring, Alterations
Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.