For 17 years, Savannah Pham has toiled in her small California Avenue tailoring and alterations shop amid bridal gowns, tuxedos and other dresses, suits shirts and pants needing a tuck here, an expansion there or a hemline lift.
Large spools of thread — commercial sized and in every color of the rainbow — jut neatly on pegs along the walls in the shop, Savannah Tailoring, located at 101 S. California Ave., unit D100D, on the ground floor of the Palo Alto Central building.
A framed, poster-sized photograph of Marilyn Monroe smoking a cigarette gazes out from the wall, her platinum blond hair in slight disarray. She sits in a light-colored dress, as though awaiting her turn for Savannah's perfect fitting.
Four months ago on Aug. 1, a leaky, rusted pipe dumped water between the third floor and the ceiling of the second floor dental office and into Pham's shop. The customers' clothes were not damaged, but the long wait before repairs could be made caused mold on the walls and collapsed some of the ceiling tiles. The floor was also torn out.
Pham continued her work in the shop, hunched over one of her sewing machines. Petite and soft-spoken with shoulder-length black hair, she is her only employee. It's been a rough few months, which capped a hard couple of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
On Nov. 7, the landlord began renovations and her shop was closed for five weeks. Pham, who reopened on Dec. 15, is waiting for her customers to return.
"We are completely clean, but I haven't seen people come back," she said, the shop's fiery orange neon sign brightly beckoning customers.
"Everyone thought I moved in November. Someone called to ask if I still have a business."
The landlord "did good" with the repairs. "I don't have any complaints," she said. Her husband has "been wonderful" by supporting her during the COVID-19 doldrums and while the shop was undergoing renovations, she said.
But a sole proprietorship such as Pham's doesn't have a large pool of cash to sustain her business in hard times. There's no stock in the company, no investors and no loans. The only currency for survival is the customers who cross her threshold six days a week.
"Please let people know that I am open. I hope the people will come back," she said.
Savannah Tailoring will be closed Dec. 25-26 and resume business on Dec. 27.