Before I get into the who and why of this incredible Omaha unsung hero, let me first start by explaining my need to champion my fabulous Omahans in an ongoing series. When I was young it seemed that everywhere I looked in Omaha there were glimpses of truly great characters. So many eye catchers, especially in Benson, where I grew up, the midtown area and downtown Omaha.
(A photo I took years ago. Rino, wearing a jacket he designed in the 1970’s.)
I have always looked for the fabulous (in all things) and created stories and names for people out of complete, honest admiration. One could argue that I didn’t have much life experience and therefore these people looked interesting to me but I don’t think that quite covers it. There are a couple of reasons why I think those fabulous, colorful, free spirits are seen few and far between in the last decade and a half but that would turn into, perhaps, a weird, ugly rant about socioculturalpolitical shifts and the killing of American style byway of Walmart and this article is certainly not about that. Any of that.
Taken years ago. Probably my favorite.
I simply wish to acknowledge that we have been in the company of real greats: The Broom Man, Seven, Sly Stone of Downtown Omaha, the Orange Lady of the Old Market, Little Edie Beale of Leavenworth, Val the Old Market Artist, the Cosmic Superhero of Leavenworth, Skip the Hardhat Guy, the Hessian AKA Krokus, Mary the Wandering Woman Who Is Actually Rumored to be Quite Well Off, the Smoking Buddhist Monks of Saddle Creek and countless others who, sadly, I have forgotten over time. I’m sure you’ve heard of a few of those, passed them on the street or had the privilege of interacting with them. The fact is, the beautiful, rare birds are not seen very often these days. There are still some eccentric souls to be seen around town. This series, Fabulous People of Omaha, is meant to honor them. Also to serve as reminder to look up from the pavement, to look outside of your car window, to get off of your phone as you walk around. You will see some real treasures.
So allow me to tell you about Rino the Tailor of Omaha….
Rino Terzo is exactly one of my favorite, fabulous people of Omaha although he was not someone I had the experience of passing by on the street. He was not someone I had been told about. He was someone I would seek out, after years of seeing his incredible sign, Rino the Tailor, on 90th Street—1725 North 90th, to be exact. If you have ever passed by his white, stucco, 50’s ranch home with the tightly manicured corner lot, then you surely know the appeal. I was drawn like a magnet to that quirky sign and the commercial-residential European ideal from long ago, although it would be many years until I knew what tailoring was about. I was mistakenly saying “Rhino” all those years in my mind as I passed on 90th Street.
I would like to be able to tell you that Rino and I hit it off from day one. That is regretfully not the case. I had first called him for some silly reason. It might have been clarifying his hours of operation or how much he charged to alter a dress. Maybe it was the fact that he can be a bit gruff on the phone or that I felt he was rushing me. Honestly he didn’t seem too concerned with winning my business or really engaging me at all. Take it or leave it. He is Italian, after all, I told myself. That point was clear. He had a wonderful, thick Italian accent. Yet the overly sensitive Irish part of myself suspected he might be sparring with me in some way. Or that he was being dismissive. (If you’re Irish, you might have some idea of this sensitivity that I speak of.) I know now, after years of becoming closer with Rino, he did not think we were having words. In fact, I’m sure now, he thought nothing of it at the time.
Waving his finger at me. Happens with frequency at the shop. Something that Miss Cassette probably deserves.
Rino’s tailoring school diploma. Notice the little clothing iron in the bottom right corner.
Born in Sicily, Rino Terzo started sewing when he was ten years old. A passion he learned from his mother, it wasn’t long until he was encouraged to train professionally. In 1957 he graduated from a Torino tailoring school, where the students focused on the essentials of cut, fit, and cloth of fine men’s Italian suiting, both bespoke and simple alterations. By 1959 Rino was encouraged by his older brother to move to Switzerland because “He thought I could make more money there,” banking off of the demand for Italian tailoring from a real Italian.
Rino Terzo in 1957
In November of 1962 Rino moved to Omaha by himself. Relying on the confident words of his uncle, Louis “Louie” Casaccio, Rino thought he might have chance at a start in America. Louie was a long time manager of the tailoring and alterations department at the beloved Nebraska Clothing Company in downtown Omaha. Louie, also born in Italy, had come to the States decades earlier. I was able to find him in the 1940 US Census already living in Omaha with a family. Rino began working at the Nebraska Clothing Company straightaway when he got to town. The tailoring and alterations department employed 15 fulltime tailors and seamstresses back then. It is just amazing to think about how much the clothing industry has changed over time and how important the right fit was in those days. To think, that every respectable department store had a large workforce of tailors and seamstresses. Rino happily told me he met Eileen his first day of work. “She worked in the area of delivery and pickup—where customers would return to the department store for their tailored garments.” It was easy to see that these two departments would work closely together. After five months of seeing each other every day, Rino and Eileen began dating. “We would go out to lunch downtown and walk around.”
Photo taken at Nebraska Clothing Company tailoring department on June 11, 1934.
Rino keeps that photo, even though it was taken many decades earlier before his employment because “it looked the same way when I worked there.” Just incredible.
Rino was also employed at the local favorite, Brandeis Department Store, in their downtown tailoring department from 1966-1967. Seen here fourth from the left, looking down as he worked. I love the Colonel Sanders looking gentlemen, overseeing everyone’s work.
One of the interesting things about some of the old phone books is that, not only would a person’s name, address and phone number be listed but some years, the city would list added details, like a person’s profession. For example, in 1968 Terzo, Angelo worked in the glue factory of Swifts (packing plant) while his wife, Nellie R. worked in the alteration department of Herzberg’s. Terzo, Rino was listed as an employee of Brandeis. By 1969 the phone book just had his home address and number listed, no longer his employment information.
Rino continued to enjoy close ties to his family in Italy, all the while pursuing his tailoring career far away in Omaha. In 1969 he flew back to Milan for a family visit. He is seen on the far left, along with his family, all holding pigeons. Is this the best photo ever taken?
It was the fall of 1969 that things began to get exciting for Rino. He received his naturalization papers on September 25, 1969. That must have been a proud day.
That same fall he decided to leave Brandeis Department Store and go into business for himself. Probably something he was waiting on his naturalization papers for. He chose the name Rino’s Golden Scissors, as it would surely attract the kind of clientele he was looking for. There was a newly remodeled building at 4401 Dodge Street (just east of Tiner’s Drive In) and Rino eagerly signed the lease. The Douglas County Republican Party headquarters were also new leasees to the building. Not one month later did the two new renters have to evacuate due to a fire which started in the basement.
December 1969 4401 Dodge Street.
Rino’s Golden Scissors caught on fire. Had only been at that location for a month.
Current photo of 4401 Dodge Street.
This vacant lot was the location of Rino’s first tailor shop. Tiner’s Drive In, a very popular place with the kids, according to Father of Miss Cassette, was in the location close to where King Kong’s Fast Food is now.
Above photo courtesy of the Robert Paskach collection at the Durham Museum Photo Archive. Lent with additional permission by the Omaha World Herald.)
1969. Dodge Street, looking east to the lights at 44th Street.
The exact year of Rino’s occupancy of 4401 Dodge Street. Tiner’s is close to where King Kong’s is currently. The little white house to the east of Tiner’s was Rino’s Golden Scissors and the Douglas County Republican Party Headquarters. Rino told me that both his business and the Republican Party HQ were on the first floor of a remodeled house. Apparently the landlord left a can of turpentine too close to furnace in the basement and a fire started. The white house along with the brick apartment building to its east are now gone. Further down Dodge, Quality Inn and Security Bank are visible. Interesting to note, is the Mercury Cougar “taking a left” on Dodge, headed down Saddle Creek, where the Village Inn is now. This photo is a real gem. Love the cars! **I only know that is a Mercury Cougar thanks to the wise reader who corrected me. I had mistakenly guessed that was a Mustang hanging a louie.
In March of 1970, Rino’s Golden Scissors, again, set out on his own, finding a new business building at 3501 Leavenworth. (The east most corner door on the far left.)
This stretch of buildings were erected in 1925. According to my findings, the Blue Danube Tavern was across the street from Rino’s Golden Scissors in 1970. I’ve always really liked the density of this stretch of Leavenworth. In fact, I’m a big fan of all of Leavenworth. Here is 3501 Leavenworth shown in its current state. Its present day owner is a local graphic designer working in multiple mediums.
By 1972 I was able to find Rino’s Golden Scissors (Custom Tailor) listed at 4009 Farnam Street– telephone 345-5445, (for those who like to call old numbers). Rino stated this had been a great location for him. He enjoyed his business, his clientele and was now, more established. He told me he was busy at that time with fine Italian suit tailoring; a custom tailor for men. Women would bring him patterns for clothes and he would create custom fit garments for them. 4009 is now owned by Greenslate and leased to the Good Life Group real estate service. This area is now part of the new Blackstone District.
You may have asked yourself what ever happened to Rino and Eileen. It turns out they continued to date throughout this whole time period. After they both left the Nebraska Clothing Company, Eileen began working at Simon’s Flowers on 49th and Dodge. If my memory serves me, I believe that Simon’s Flowers used to be in the great building that would later house Fenwick’s Ice Cream and Eatery at 4922 Dodge. Eileen had a real passion for floral arrangement and was in this field for many years to come.
They married October 26, 1974. Just love this 70’s photo.
The Terzos began to plot their future. By 1975, Rino had bought his house at 1725 North 90th Street. Most of the houses in this area were developed in the 1950’s. With 2 bedrooms, 2 baths at 1,924 square feet on a .65 acre corner lot, the couple knew this property would be big enough to house their dream businesses. While continuing to operate out of the 4009 Farnam Street location, the Terzos planned to turned the garage into Rino’s tailor shop and wanted to build a flower shop for Eileen.
This is the article I found from the Omaha World Herald from May 4, 1975, showing Rino had put in an application for a building rezoning of 1725.
Great photo taken at the 4009 Farnam Street location.
The couple was ultimately not allowed the additional business permit for Eileen’s flower shop business. According to Rino, the city board denied them this additional permit “because I was a foreigner—‘You want to come here and make money fast.’”Apparently, from Rino’s point of view, the city did not want two businesses operating out of this address. This must have been difficult for the couple to accept. From my research it would appear that Rino’s Golden Scissors continued doing business out of 4009 Farnam Street for many years to come.
In my search for all things Rino, I came across this fantastic bit of history. Rino made an Italian flag for the Santa Lucia festival in downtown Omaha in 1982. As a member of the festival committee and the Sons of Italy, he volunteered to sew the 15 by 22 foot flag. Here is the Omaha World Herald article from July 24, 1982.
When I brought the Italian flag story up in a conversation with Rino recently, he produced an incredible photograph taken of his creation.
He was also proud to tell me that the then Mayor of Omaha, Mike Boyle, presented him with the keys to the city after his flag was completed. He said this was a surprise ceremony and he felt honored by the recognition. This plaque hangs in his shop to this day.
Rino’s Golden Scissors at 4009 Farnam. L. Kavich photographer 1989.
Sometime in the late 1980’s Rino moved his tailor shop into his home at 1725 North 90th Street. When I asked him why he changed his business name to Rino the Tailor, he replied,“because Rino’s Golden Scissors took much room for the sign and it gave the impression that I was too expensive.” I thought he was wise to change with the times, even though there was an allure to those Golden Scissors, I believe. I was happy to see, on my last visit, that the scissors depicted on his current sign are a faded, gold, metallic paint.
It would be many, many years until I stepped foot into Rino the Tailor’s shop. Upon first visit I felt as though I was viewing a shop that had stood the test of time. It appeared to me that his many sewing items had been put into their place and remained that way for decades–just the way I, too, like things. The door to his house would sometimes be open and I could hear Eileen on the phone or smell lunch or dinner being prepared. Sometimes I could hear a television show or music. Always comforting, like a family member was near. I imagined it might be comforting to work in one’s home.
Sadly Eileen died in 2008 at age 73. I know that this has been a real difficulty and loss for Rino as they did not have children.
As much as I would like to gloat about each and every one of my interactions with Rino, (because I think he is pretty hilarious and when we get together, we are quite the funny pair), I will try to keep our synergy to a minimum so I can focus this article on him. Let me just share these bits—Rino is a fine tailor. Perfectionistic, I would wager. He makes the lining of a dress as beautiful as the dress itself. You could wear his tailored clothes inside out and someday I might do just that. The communication between Rino and I is remarkably boisterous. It is as if I’ve been given another chance at being born Italian and no longer a sensitive Irishman. There have been a number of times I have hung up from a lively, ever-rising-in-volume phone call with Rino, only to hear Mr. Cassette question from another room, “What was that all about?” In person, the communication between Rino and I is even more complex and we can get into some classic arguments. One argument ended with me having to throw a vintage, stained and holey dress in his tailor shop trash can because he didn’t think I should be wearing such rags. Rino has standards, you understand, and he thought I should have standards too. All interactions require me to gain a thicker skin. Rino was also the first person to tell me about the wonders of olive oil on the skin. In his years of cooking Italian cuisine for his wife, it was a custom of Rino’s to wipe the excess olive oil on his face. He swears by it. If you’ve had the good fortune of meeting Rino, you know that his skin and hair are gorgeous. He is 82 years of age and is quite handsome. I was sold. Within a matter of heated discourse over the years and some sound advice, on his part, I had decided he was the Italian grandfather figure that was missing from my life. And I am pretty sure I am not the only one that feels this way about Rino Terzo.
Please see Fabulous People of Omaha for the first installment of this ongoing series.
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