Clothier Industry

Clothing Industry Location

This image shows the location of Rochester's historical garment district, taken from Google Maps.

Jehiel Barnard was the first tailor in Rochester. He arrived in 1812, the same year as the city’s permanent settlement. Myer Greentree is credited with being the city's first first merchant tailor, and he gave employment to his fellow Jewish German immigrants. By 1834, at least 20 tailors were operating in Rochester, employing immigrants from Germany, Italy, and Poland. By the 1920s the garment industry was the second largest source of employment in Rochester. Rochester was ranked number fourth nationally in terms of the production of men's clothing.

For Marketview Heights, there were "The Big Five" clothing firms that provided employment for many residents. Herman Rosenburg, an immigrant from Germany, established one of these "Big Five" tailoring houses around 1860. Rosenburg's company was renamed Fashion Park in 1913 when the company needed to expand to a larger facility. Henry Michaels, an immigrant from England was the founder of Michaels-Stern in 1849. Michaels-Stern was one of the first large clothing manufacturing companies in Rochester. Fred Keller, Sol Heumann, and T. Howerth Thompson built their firm in 1920, but the popular brand name, Timely Clothes, was not introduced until 1934. By 1959, Timely Clothes had more than 1000 employees and 12 retail stores. Bond Clothes was the last to establish, and one of the last to close. The closure of Bond Clothes was a devastating loss, because at the time they were the largest employer of clothing workers in Rochester. Jeremiah G. Hickey and Jacob L. Freeman started Hickey Freeman in 1899. Today, Hickey Freeman is the only one of "The Big Five" that still remains in Rochester.  

Many of the firms operated with poor working conditions, separating skilled from unskilled labor. and operating under sweatshop conditions. In 1913, garment workers, primarily women, make their way down St. Paul street, behind a giant banner stating: "Striking Garment Workers Issued by the authority of United Garment Workers of America." 

All of the tailoring houses relied upon immigrant labor. Master tailors from foreign countries were recruited to move to the United States and work in the clothing factories. At Hickey Freeman almost 85% of the workers were from Italy.The end of World War II brought a new wave of immigrants.The tailoring industry indeed brought a large immigrant population to Rochester, but especially to the area now known as Marketview Heights. 

Community members remember their mothers and other women in the neighborhood working on sewing and finishing projects around a kitchen table in the evening, to make a little additional money per piece.

Some master tailors were able to leave and create their own businesses. Tony Apollonio's father was recruited from Italy to come over and work in the factory of one of the Big Five. When he made enough money to bring his family over from Italy, he a started his own small custom tailor business. These custom pants were made for individuals. Often the initials were monogrammed in real gold thread. Tony's father's business even made custom made pants for clients like Mickey Mantle!

Clothier Industry