MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. Summer is the time when Washington slows down a bit and takes a moment to catch its breath and smell the roses, so to speak. Well, that's the theory anyway. But then you meet people like Cheryl Lofton, who remembers summers from her childhood spent with measuring tape, chalk and lots and lots of pins.
MS. CHERYL A. LOFTON
Hi, how are you?
Good, how are you?
Are you Cheryl?
Yes, I am Cheryl. Nice to meet you. I'm sorry, I was just in the middle of...
...a fitting so...
Not a problem.
Cheryl Lofton, in case you haven't guessed, is a tailor or would it be, wait, like a tailoress?
I get a lot of that, "Are you a tailor? Are you a tailoress? Are you a seamstress?" I don't know. I call myself an artist in a clothing business. I like to make art out of people's clothes.
And here in D.C.'s Shaw neighborhood, that's exactly what she sets out to do as the owner of, "Cheryl A. Lofton and Associates."
Third generation tailoring business, right here in the nation's capital.
Cheryl's grandfather, J. C. Lofton, opened the family's first business in 1939, "Lofton Custom Tailoring," on 5th and H Streets Northwest.
He was the first African-American tailor to ever have an establishment downtown Washington, D.C.
And along with the shop, J.C. also opened a school.
"Lofton School of Tailoring," which he created to have a space for black veterans who came back from the war. They could not get into a lot of the white schools. So he created a trade school so that they could come here and learn a trade and get jobs after the war.
The Lofton School closed in 1970, but the tailoring business kept going strong. Cheryl remembers lending a hand or being requested to lend a hand, I guess you could say, as early as her teens.
In my family, everybody had to be a part of the tailoring business. In summer when kids were out playing, we had to come and help my grandfather in the tailor shop.
That went for Saturdays, too. And by the time she was ready to go study communications at Howard University, she decided, yeah, I've had enough.
Because I didn't really want to come home with threads and strings hanging on me every day, like my grandfather used to come and he'd still have a needle in his mouth and things like that. And I'm like, I'm not coming home like that ever.
But turns out, you can take the girl out of the tailor shop, but you can't take the tailor shop out of the girl. While in college, Cheryl kept tailoring on the side.
I would iron shirts and hem pants and things.
To make extra money. Then her grandfather got sick.
And I did not want our business to go under so I decided that I would stay.
And, yes, take over the business. The original shop closed, but after moving around a few years, Cheryl eventually found this space on T Street Northwest. The block, she says, yeah, it was kind of iffy.
There was a lot of drug activity out here and these buildings had been vacant 15 years or something and no one would come here.
But that didn't stop her and her staff from moving on in.
We just became the anchor for this neighborhood. Other people started to come after that so -- see, other people are still coming.
And coming from all over the D.C. area. In fact, the day I visit, the beep of the front door...
Hey, good morning, how are you?
...brings a bunch of longtime faithfuls, including a hip retro guy from Mount Pleasant who has Cheryl tailor his snappy vintage garb.
I don’t know where he gets them. He won't let me onto his secret yet.
Would you tell WAMU 88.5 where you get...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1
...absolutely not. Far too large of an audience.
There's a sheik professional from Upper Marlboro, Md. How long have you been coming here?
MS. CAROLYN RHONE
Four years, five years?
Who comes to Cheryl for custom shirts and gowns.
Everybody waits to see what I'm going to wear because her gowns are awesome.
Then there's a nattily clad older gentleman from Brookland. Though he actually grew up...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #2
I learned to play ball right in that schoolyard, right there.
...just a stone's throw from Cheryl's shop. Cheryl said this spot was vacant for a while. The neighborhood was kind of...
Yeah, because after the riots, it was -- like, it went down, you know, but it's on the up-rise now.
And Cheryl's playing a big part in that up-rise. In January, she opened a shoeshine shop next door to the tailoring shop. And one day she hopes to start a dry cleaning business. So you're kind of taking over the block?
I would like to, but since you put it out there, yes, yes. Yes, one day we would like to take over the block.
But in the meantime, Cheryl is more than happy to continue the Lofton Family's proud legacy, by nipping a little here, tucking a little there and all the while, making art out of people's clothes. To take a little photographic tour of Cheryl's tailor shop, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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