Terms of Use

Oral histories are intimate conversations between and among people who have generously agreed to share these recordings with BHS’s archives and researchers. Please listen in the spirit with which these were shared. BHS abides by the General Principles & Best Practices for Oral History as agreed upon by the Oral History Association and expects that use of this material will be done with respect for these professional ethics.

Every oral history relies on the memories, views, and opinions of the narrator. Because of the personal nature of oral history, listeners may find some viewpoints or language of the recorded participants to be objectionable. In keeping with its mission of preservation and unfettered access whenever possible, BHS presents these views as recorded.

The audio recording should be considered the primary source for each interview. Where provided, transcripts created prior to 2008 or commissioned by a third party other than BHS, serve as a guide to the interview and are not considered verbatim. More recent transcripts commissioned by BHS are nearly verbatim copies of the recorded interview, and as such may contain the natural false starts, verbal stumbles, misspeaks, and repetitions that are common in conversation. The decision for their inclusion was made because BHS gives primacy to the audible voice and also because some researchers do find useful information in these verbal patterns. Unless these verbal patterns are germane to your scholarly work, when quoting from this material researchers are encouraged to correct the grammar and make other modifications maintaining the flavor of the narrator’s speech while editing the material for the standards of print.

All citations must be attributed to Brooklyn Historical Society:

[Last name, First name], Oral history interview conducted by [Interviewer’s First name Last name], [Month DD, YYYY], [Title of Collection], [Call #]; Brooklyn Historical Society.

These interviews are made available for research purposes only. For more information about other kinds of usage and permissions, see BHS’s rights and reproductions policy.

Agree to terms of use

Michael Faiella

Oral history interview conducted by Benjamin Filene

July 31, 1987

Call number: 1995.005.003

Search This Transcript
Search Clear

FILENE: Mr., Sir, uh, could you tell us about the history of the business, um, when it was founded.

FAIELLA: Uh, my father started this business in 1927.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

FAIELLA: He opened it up as a tailor shop, and gradually started putting Military items into the store, and built it up to probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Naval uniform store maybe in the country, maybe in the city.

FILENE: And, uh, so when did you focus entirely on, on the uniforms?

FAIELLA: We've always been -- well, he gradually worked into the uniform. First he started with tailoring, and he gradually --

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

FAIELLA: -- worked his way into sewing. He started off maybe with dungarees and shirts and finally went into the uniform. We never were manufacturers, we were just a retail store at the time.

FILENE: Right.

FAIELLA: Uh... During the War became a big thing, because, as you can read in 1:00the article, everybody went into this business because it was a Boomtown then. It was like, uh, how can you explain it? Uh, like a goldmine, gold strike --


FAIELLA: -- 'cause everybody came in. They saw a dollar, they all gotta come into the business.


FAIELLA: And as soon as the War ended, but before the War ended, actually, people start to run away. They saw the writing on the wall. They knew that there wouldn't be a Military business like there was during the War, and they started folding up, but meanwhile we started to buy out different stores that went out of business, so eventually we became the only store in the area.


FAIELLA: They say during the War there was, if you want to count the little stores that sold gloves and, uh, work clothes and small items, we were told in the area here there were maybe 200 stores. Like it said in the article that they opened, stores opened -- in fact, my uncle had a shoemaker store right one block 2:00from the gate. A picture's right here on the -- the, the house is right on the picture over there, and he was only, uh, one block from the Navy Yard gate, the Sands Street gate, which was the main entrance.

FILENE: Right.

FAIELLA: And someone approached him and says, "Can we use the front of your store?" "What do you mean, use the front of my store?" He had the cut out, the funny window. Of course, he was up a flight of steps, short flight of steps. They cut out the front of his store, and they made a stand over there where they sold lunches and gloves, shoelaces, or anything a worker --


FAIELLA: -- could pick up on the, on the run.

FILENE: That's right.

FAIELLA: But I, they cut it right out-- they cut the store, the window right out and put a stand over there. He didn't need a window for a shoemaker's store, so --


FAIELLA: -- uh, didn't matter for him, so he got rent for this show window, actually.

FILENE: [laughter]

FAIELLA: And, uh, that's how things were then. People went into hallways. Somebody had a hallway that was on the main drag, "Let me rent your hallway," and they put a stand in there and start selling out of hallways.


FILENE: Uh huh.

FAIELLA: It was a fabulous story, but it didn't last. Lasts just the length of the War, and, just like I says, fast as they came in, that's how they ran out.


FAIELLA: They're like rats leaving a sinking ship, you know. They saw the ship was going down, they ran.


FAIELLA: But we had to stay. We're -- our roots were here, and my fa-, like I said, my father started this business and we had to stay, we felt we should stay, so now we're the only one here. And thank God we were making a living, and we were able to maneuver ourselves, and as time changed we changed with the time, so we went to different things.

FILENE: You've had different locations?

FAIELLA: Mm-hmm, always in this area. We were never more than two blocks away from the Navy Yard.


FAIELLA: This is our, actually our third or fourth location, if you want to call it, 'cause once we had two stores going. A couple times we had two stores going --


FAIELLA: -- one my father ran and one I ran. This is the only thing I know, the only business I've ever been in. I never got a salary in my life. I've always worked there since I was a kid, so...


FILENE: Huh. When did you start?

FAIELLA: I started maybe I started when I was twelve, thirteen years old helping out in the store.

FILENE: Huh, yeah.

FAIELLA: So I'm fifty-nine years old now, so you can figure out how many...


FAIELLA: I should've been a millionaire ten times over at that rate.

FILENE: [laughter] That's right. Um, so were there businesses that catered to the Navy yard workers even off work hours?

FAIELLA: Yes, there were. There were -- some stores stayed open twenty-four hours. We never did, but there were stores that always did... And it wasn't too much the neighborhood, because mostly the, most of the stores catered to the, uh, the, uh, sailors, because the sailors used to come back and forth -- the sailor was a -- the uniform business was aimed at the sailors, not too much at the working man. The worker man could pick up work clothes anywhere, but the sailors had to buy their uniforms around here. But there were restaurants or [inaudible] luncheonettes that used to stay open 24 hours, uh, diners open 24 hours.


FAIELLA: There were those places that used to make hero sandwiches 24 hours, 5:00because they had three shifts during the War, so the people had to come out and eat. That's one thing they did have.

FILENE: Yeah, the Navy Yard workers had night shifts, so...

FAIELLA: Yeah, they had three shifts throughout the War, so they always, uh, they always had to look for someplace they could, uh, grab a bite.

FILENE: So did you sell exclusively to sailors, or did you sell some of the work clothes, too?

FAIELLA: We sold work clothes, too, but most of our business was Navy uniforms.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

FAIELLA: That's why --

FILENE: Sold to the sailors.

FAIELLA: That's why today we're a unique business. See, we, uh -- most Army Navy stores, they sell ninety percent commercial stuff and ten percent Military.


FAIELLA: We're just the opposite: we sell ninety percent Military and ten percent, uh, commercial.


FAIELLA: That's why we can call ourselves really a, a Military store, an Army and Navy store that's true Army and Navy store, not like what they advertise today.

FILENE: Mm-hmm. How, um, how was the, uh, Navy Yard viewed by the Brooklyn community at the time?


FAIELLA: Oh, we accepted it, as you can see here. It's a big difference today than when, uh, than when, uh, they went over to Staten Island, 'cause everybody's resenting the, the, they call it the portal over there, but as you can see over there, they welcomed the ships. In the picture it says "Welcome, US Navy," so in 1939 everybody -- we, we needed the Navy Yard. Navy Yard was the, the key industry in this area here, the support of the area. I'll bet you it was where the, uh, oh, maybe twenty, thirty percent of the people who lived around here looked for jobs -- if they didn't get a job at least they looked for jobs. And it was very convenient, the pay was good, and, uh, it was good for the, uh, for the area. When they closed the Navy Yard down they hurt a lot of people, not only the business people but the, the people of Brooklyn.


FAIELLA: Put a lot of people out of work.

FILENE: How were the, uh? But it wasn't just the sailors. I mean, how were the Navy Yard workers, um, viewed?


FAIELLA: Oh, no, there was no resentment. I mean, uh, resent people that were working in the neighbor-, neighborhood, is that what you mean?

FILENE: Oh, I don't know, I just wanted to know if, um, if they were seen as part of the War effort as --

FAIELLA: Oh, yeah, absolutely. You know, in fact, people, uh, used to want to work there because, uh, it was being patriotic when you worked for the Navy Yard during the War, absolutely. It was absolutely... they exempted people from Military service because they, maybe they were technicians that were, knew how to work in the Navy Yard [inaudible]. If a person had a special job, he would be rejected from the Army and so he can continue to work, but he was still, he was a specialist of some sort.


FAIELLA: No, the public, uh, accepted 'em. There was never any problem there.

FILENE: So, um, immediately before the War, uh, how much of a market was there? I mean, was it -- did it just really go up that dramatically just when the War started?


FAIELLA: Uh, when the War started, yeah, it turned out almost immediately, you know, because, uh, they started to build those ships, like they had twenty-four hour ships, uh, ships in, uh, the men would be stationed on the ships and they would leave the ship every night, and, uh, there was plenty of that. More activity than some people could handle. We had times that we couldn't get merchandise to supply them during the War, because we were even rationed, you know, the, uh -- we were limited how much we could buy the material. There was a shortage of material, there was a shortage of money, and clothing then and everything.

FILENE: You bought them pre-made.

FAIELLA: Pre-made, right, right, right.

FILENE: Yeah. Um, so the Navy itself didn't outfit people?

FAIELLA: Well, so it was a different Navy, uh, at that time. A sailor would get his uniforms, but the first thing he would do when he would get out of boot camp, would went to a store like us and buy what they call a tailor made uniform, a custom made uniform --


FAIELLA: -- that had fancy linings and designing in it --


FILENE: Oh, oh.

FAIELLA: -- that had things like, uh, liberty cuffs and, uh, it was a sharp uniform, you know, form fitting, tight fitting.


FAIELLA: The tighter the uniform the better, uh --

FILENE: [laughter]

FAIELLA: -- the better it would look. They used to go crazy with it. They sometimes have to have two guys take the uniform off when they come home drunk at night, but that's the way they wanted it. [laughter] That was the look. It was...

FILENE: So that... Yeah.

FAIELLA: Couldn't sometimes get 'em tight enough. You had to put zippers in the sides, so they would take the uniform.

FILENE: Oh, wow.

FAIELLA: That was where the Navy uniform -- that's where your sailor, that's what you call their salt and bell bottoms, because the Navy uniforms are really thin leg and straight legs.


FAIELLA: And they, uh, so they would wear them only on the base, and off the base they would get the tailor mades, they'd go strutting down the street, you know.

FILENE: So they were a source of pride.

FAIELLA: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

FILENE: That's great.

FAIELLA: They pride, they took pride in their uniform then. It was a thing that they, their uniform -- they don't have the same feeling towards the uniform. They don't even wear the uniforms off base anymore, most of them, because... Not 10:00like the old days.

FILENE: Why do you think they, uh...? Is it different views of the Navy, or...?

FAIELLA: Yeah, different -- Military's -- this antiwar business from Vietnam and, um, demonstrators, they were -- they, they really made it difficult for a fellow to go around --


FAIELLA: -- wearing a uniform.


FAIELLA: You rarely see sailors in uniforms today. It's, uh, you see them... Or out of uniform then in uniform.

FILENE: Right, right. Um, you said that the Naval Yard hurt a lot of people when they, when it left. Um, is there a lot of, is there resentment, uh, or how, how did people react to the end?

FAIELLA: Well, I'll tell you my personal feeling was I always blamed the Kennedy family for this, and I'll tell you why. They had to start, government had to start economizing. You know, they didn't need so many shipyards --

FILENE: Right.

FAIELLA: -- and they had to start closing them, and at that time the Kennedy family was in power, and they sent McNamara down here to check out the Navy 11:00Yard, and when he left, he left people with the impression that, "Well, we're, we're going to see what we can do for you people," you know.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

FAIELLA: And about a month or two after he left they got word that they Navy Yard was going to close. The reason they closed it was so Boston could remain open. They had to start closing.


FAIELLA: See, and Boston was his hometown, and he wasn't going to see Boston close down for no money, 'cause he couldn't go home then. But meanwhile, the people in Brooklyn always got the dirty end of the stick, as usual. Today it's happening. This neighborhood had no problem with the Navy Yard today with this, uh, coastal dry dock, the same thing. They were supposed to be awarded, uh, renovating, um, the Iowa.


FAIELLA: And the same thing happened there, when one day we heard word, over here all the, all the workers were coming out, they were happy, they were celebrating, it was a Friday night. They said, "We got the contract for the Iowa," and the Iowa is the battleship, you know, that's going to be the key 12:00battleship here in Staten Island. So they came out, they were -- oh, they were happy. They were celebrating, having a good time. They said, "We got the contract, we got the contract, we got the contract." And then --

FILENE: These were the sailors or the workers?

FAIELLA: No, the working people.

FILENE: Workers.

FAIELLA: The sailors, uh, weren't even here at the time.


FAIELLA: There's been a few sailors around here now or then, but meanwhile, there were [inaudible] --

FILENE: When was this?

FAIELLA: This was only, uh, about three years ago, I think, you know.


FAIELLA: And, uh, they lost the contract. Monday comes, they said, "We didn't get the contract." "Why?" "Who knows why, we just didn't get the contract. They gave it to some place down south." Uh, this is the iro-, iro-, irony of it all: the ship was in Philadelphia [inaudible]. It's only, what is it, 100 miles from here. They could've brought it right here in no time.


FAIELLA: They had to take the ship from Philadelphia, bring it all the way down somewheres around New Orleans -- I think they're in Louisiana -- work on the ship there. They couldn't complete it there. They didn't have the facilities to complete it there. And they took it -- from there they had to bring it to Texas 13:00to complete it, then bring it back here. Meanwhile, this yard was equipped to do any kind of work. It's the biggest, it was the biggest, the best, and the greatest yard in the world during World War II. It says right here in the, in the, in the magazine. It'll tell you, it was known to be the best Navy yard in the world, uh, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but politics closed it.


FAIELLA: That's what the story was.


FAIELLA: I don't know what to say then -- so meanwhile, the -- now they're reprimanding our two Congressmen, our Congressman Biaggi and, uh, for trying to, to get work for this, uh, same yard that was never swindled out of it.


FAIELLA: They did the same thing all the other politicians doin' that, and meanwhile they got caught and they're going to have a problem now.


FAIELLA: But the reason this yard is, uh, is in bad shape is because we haven't -- there was no work. They build the biggest turbo tankers in the world over here, too, after the War. They started trying to build turbo tankers, but bad, uh, business or stuff to come out of that line, too --



FAIELLA: -- because the kind of problems they had there that they couldn't continue building them here, so they closed that end of it. Sue Chambers [phonetic] Building -- That's a company that builds, uh, turbo tankers and other things.

FILENE: Yeah, so do you think that the, uh, the problem is the government quota, or that -- do you think that the private, um, companies could make this work? 'Cause aren't there some private, private firms that have come in, like NIMCO and things?

FAIELLA: Oh yeah, they absolutely. No, the, the Navy Yard will never go down. There's always, you know, there's always something -- but it's not a Navy Yard anymore.

FILENE: Right.

FAIELLA: That's the problem. You know, it's just a, uh, what would you call it? So there are warehouses here and small businesses. The sin of it all is they did kill our Navy Yard. They killed probably one of the best things we had in this country.


FAIELLA: Like I said, they killed the best, they, they, they shut down the best Navy yard in the world --

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

FAIELLA: -- because of politics.

FILENE: So you don't think that the, uh, the private companies could, could make it work around here?

FAIELLA: Well, no, they... Yeah, they're going to make it work as far as the 15:00economy goes. Yes, they'll, they'll help there's going to be, but there's not, to me... The Navy Yard's a Navy yard. When you, when you have a Navy you're supposed to build ships in the Navy yard, not put warehouses, you know, put people in it to, to build cranes, uh... They had the biggest cranes, the biggest equipment.


FAIELLA: I think another story they tell, they tell when the Navy Yard closed, they sold the cranes for maybe a million dollars, but the Navy had to continue to use them, so the Navy turned around and rented them, maybe for 15,000 dollars a day. So it wound up costing them more... [laughter] They paid the people back after that. That's how, that's how the government works.


FAIELLA: I'm using figures out of my head. These are not --

FILENE: Well, yeah, whatever.

FAIELLA: -- figures, but I'm just telling you how it works.


FAIELLA: But they sold it for a million and then rented it for a million and a half. [laughter] You know how the government is. That's what -- that's how we get in trouble in this country.

FILENE: Yeah, yeah. So you think a lot of the people around here are sort of 16:00bitter about the Navy Yard leaving, or...?

FAIELLA: Absolutely, no getting away from it. Look, you can see there -- on this street alone there were maybe, uh, let's see, it was one... There was this store -- there was a bar. The bar closed on the, on the next door over here. There was another uniform store on the other corner.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

FAIELLA: A uniform store in the middle of the street.


FAIELLA: A diner. Then there was a receiving station.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

FAIELLA: Then there was another diner.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

FAIELLA: Then there was another uniform storm, and then down further there was another diner, and that's it, and then, then there was a bar, or a couple of bars down farther, maybe two or three bars down farther. Today there isn't one bar, and there may be only one bar left, and the only uniform store remaining... 17:00Uh, I don't think there's a diner on this street anymore, a restaurant, no.


FAIELLA: The bar is the only restaurant left. That's all, yeah.

FILENE: All those things were on this street or on Sands Street?

FAIELLA: On this street.


FAIELLA: That's all that's left, out of all that, uh, that existed here. Out of all the stores. And the only store that remained in here is a clothing store down the street that was my building. That was the old Battleship Mike's Building, we used to call that. I sold it to him, and he sells civilian clothes. And, uh, that's it.


FAIELLA: And one, one bar left out of all these here.


FAIELLA: So it did hurt.

FILENE: Yeah. Um, when did you first move from Sands to here?

FAIELLA: Uh, that's a good question. See, we were the last store, last maritime store to leave Sand Street too so, it was in the books. We were going, we were happy to be the last store. It was just our nature never to... Yeah, we were always --

FILENE: [inaudible]

FAIELLA: -- yeah pride, we never wanted to move. Uh, jeez, I'm not even sure, because we moved from there to Clermont Avenue here.


FILENE: When did you do that?

FAIELLA: Maybe about thirty years ago.


FAIELLA: And then --

FILENE: Fifty-, '57?

FAIELLA: Maybe before that, too, because we, my -- while my father was operating this store I was store, still operating a store on Sands Street, and not the original store, because we had another building we moved across the street, and afterward I, I was operating a smaller store. We originally had one n-, uh, 191 Sands Street. That was our main store.

FILENE: Right.

FAIELLA: And then we moved to 164 for after when they, they tore down the hou-, the, the stores, the property there to build the Farragut housing projects, but they still didn't build a highway. They were going to build the, uh, expressway. They didn't build it yet, so we built across the street because we had a house there with a store in it, so we moved there temporarily until they took over, took, uh, kicked us out of there, too, so then we moved down here to Clermont Avenue.

FILENE: So they --

FAIELLA: It was around maybe about thirty-four, thirty-five years ago it was.


FAIELLA: And then, uh, I think seventeen years ago we moved to this side, we 19:00moved around the corner to here.

FILENE: Mm-hmm. So you lasted pretty long after the War at Sands Street.

FAIELLA: Well, we lasted 'til the... As long as we had room there we lasted. Like I said, the last store out.

FILENE: Yeah, so like '52 or something?

FAIELLA: '52, right, about that I would say, yeah.

FILENE: Yeah. Okay. Um, well, you've talked about this somewhat, but how do you feel about what's happened to Brooklyn as a whole in the past forty years? I mean, there have been a lot of ups and downs --


FILENE: -- and a lot of people say it's coming back up, but --

FAIELLA: I'll tell you something: it's definitely coming back up, Brooklyn.


FAIELLA: 'Cause I, I know this neighborhood. I was born here. I was born at 190 Sands Street.


FAIELLA: And, uh, my family's still -- my, my mother's still living around the corner.


FAIELLA: So I know this neighborhood as well as anyone else does I know, and I know that, uh, it's coming back strong. This -- people went away when the Navy, Naval port started dropping down, and people started to run away, but then they found out there's, there was no place to run to --


FAIELLA: -- because wherever they went the rents were higher and higher, and now 20:00people are moving back here. Find that people come again, they take more buildings and renovate them, especially in this area. Right now this is the only strip, because it's still -- there's nothing really, uh, residential about it, but it's still the only strip that hasn't developed yet, but if you go two blocks away here on Myrtle Avenue you're paying hou-, the house that sold for twenty, 25,000, uh, ten years ago, fifteen years ago, today you have to pay 200 to 300,000 dollars --


FAIELLA: -- for the same homes, and maybe there's some houses go as high as 800,000 dollars, some of the houses there --

FILENE: Mm, mm.

FAIELLA: -- because the value's coming back. It's all over, all over the Brooklyn area, all, especially down this end here, because it's, uh, the advantage of getting to New York in two minutes, you know?

FILENE: Yeah, yeah.

FAIELLA: We're right by the bridge. Uh, you've got the Brooklyn Heights, you've got the Waterfront, uh... They're building restaurants down there, you know. They're converting the, uh, warehouses into condominiums and, uh, lofts, into apartments.


FILENE: Mm-hmm.

FAIELLA: No, definitely this is -- Brooklyn's on its way up again. I've been telling everybody that. I know that for a fact.

FILENE: That's great, yeah.

FAIELLA: And this is the... The city will be a little more hopeful instead of fighting, uh, the, the Board, and landlords, and maybe we'll do better yet.

FILENE: Mm, what, what, what's the problems with the city?

FAIELLA: Uh, every time you turn around you're getting hit with, uh, some kind of summons, inspectors come around.


FAIELLA: They give you summonses for the smallest thing. Meanwhile, if you look on a, on a city property they have more, more violations than, uh, a landlord can have, you know.

FILENE: [laughter] Yeah.

FAIELLA: Yeah, one day I went to, uh, to pay a summons that I wasn't even supposed to -- I had -- I was summonsed to New York City to pay a violation that they said I was in violation. I didn't have a -- when I got there -- they wouldn't tell me on the phone what it was -- when I got there they had a list of violations that were possibly my -- I could be one of these here or none of them or something else.

FILENE: [laughter]

FAIELLA: They listed the violation that I possibly could be, uh, have a fault 22:00with my building. So when I called the, the fellow up I was supposed to go see, he tells me, he says, "You have to come down, I have to talk to you personally." So I'm studying this sheet, and I checked out if I had this, had that. One of the violations said I didn't have a permit. I called up the City and I found I did have a permit, uh, same permit through my building. But I didn't know if that was the one I got. He says, "This is your violation. You don't have this permit." I said, "What are you telling me, I don't have the...? I have this permit over here, you know." He says... He says, "Well, we'll have to check it." I said, "Why couldn't you check it before? Why didn't you put it on there?" "Well, our computers weren't working properly."

FILENE: [laughter]

FAIELLA: I spent, uh, two or three hours down there waiting to hear this here. When he finally does check it he says, uh, "You're right, you do have a permit." I had -- But meanwhile, while I was sitting at that office over there, I looked at the ceiling. I see the ceilings were falling down, paint was, uh, the walls needed painting. They had the -- their fellow, the clerk in front of me was talking to his girlfriend on the phone for forty-five minutes --



FAIELLA: -- and, uh --

FILENE: They practice what they preach don't they?

FAIELLA: -- yeah, and, uh, there was, uh, cardboard boxes blocking the drivew-, uh, the doorway. Uh, the seats, uh, had, uh, chewing gum on 'em. I mean, meanwhile I got violations, then a couple wee-, months later I get another violations that the paint on my building's coming off, that I have a crack in my window. Meanwhile, their windows were cracked maybe -- broken, not only cracked.

FILENE: Yeah, yeah.

FAIELLA: But their buildings they can keep that way, but a poor landlord's got to suffer over there.


FAIELLA: We have to, we have to tolerate their baloney and we have to go and repair and do these repairs, because they got to show that they're doing something for the city, and they're not doing nothing for the city.

FILENE: Huh. Well, it sounds like it's coming back, anyway.

FAIELLA: Well, like I said, see, the thing is -- but, uh, the hardest thing is to get along in the City without, uh, without, uh... We're fighting the City.

FILENE: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

FAIELLA: They don't help the bus-, small business man.

FILENE: Mm-hmm. Um, what is, what's the business like now? I mean, uh, do you 24:00have, do you sell different things than you used to, or...?

FAIELLA: Well, uh, we're, we're fortunate that, uh, we're finally been discovered by the, uh, costume houses --

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

FAIELLA: -- photographers and things like that, and, uh, that's where we're getting a lot of our business from them. We have probably, like I said, the best supply of naval uniforms in the country --

FILENE: Uh huh.

FAIELLA: -- because we've got stuff going back sixty years.

FILENE: Yeah, yeah.

FAIELLA: We, uh... So now people are getting to know us, and we're developing a name in, in a new field, and thank God it's carrying us over.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

FAIELLA: So we got a little bit of s- street cred, a little bit of Navy, whatever Navy -- we got the Navy reserves, Marine reserves. They come in to us, and the Marine Corps, they're, wherever they're stationed. We have the best supply, so we can supply them whatever, what they need. Sometimes a guy needs a button. We could save him, uh, save him a weekend, maybe, and lose his, get a weekend and lose his place, he couldn't find himself a button, so if he comes in and buys a button from us we're saving his neck for that week.


FILENE: [laughter] One devoted customer, sure.

FAIELLA: Yeah, that's right, one satisfied customer, yeah. As you can see, we haven't got room to put, uh, [laughter] much more stuff in here as it is, and...

FILENE: Yeah, yeah.


FILENE: OK, well thanks very much.

FAIELLA: All right.

Read All

Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Michael Faiella

Michael Faiella (1928- ) grew up in Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn on Sands Street. His father opened Reliable Naval Tailoring, Co. in 1927 at 191 Sands Street. The shop moved several times, but always remained close to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

In his interview, Michael Faiella (1928- ) describes how Reliable Naval Tailoring, Co. changed over its 60 years tenure. The store sold uniforms to sailors, not the workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Faiella also describes the important relationship between the Navy Yard and the Brooklyn community, and how much the neighborhood deteriorated after the Navy Yard was decommissioned. As the bars, restaurants and other uniform stores closed around Faiella, they were able to maintain business by diversifying their products and clientele. Faiella was also interviewed in 2007. Interview conducted by Benjamin Filene.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection is comprised of over fifty interviews of men and women who worked in or around the Brooklyn Navy Yard, primarily during World War II. The narrators discuss growing up in New York, their work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, their relationships with others at the Yard, gender relations and transportation to and from work. Many narrators bring up issues of ethnicity, race, and religion at the Yard or in their neighborhoods. Several people describe the launching of the USS Missouri battleship and recall in detail their daily tasks at the Yard (as welders, office workers and ship fitters). While the interviews focus primarily on experiences in and around the Yard, many narrators go on to discuss their lives after the Navy Yard, relating stories about their careers, dating and marriage, children, social activities, living conditions and the changes that took place in Manhattan and Brooklyn during their lifetimes.


Faiella, Michael, 1928-, Oral history interview conducted by Benjamin Filene, July 31, 1987, Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection, 1995.005.003; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Faiella, Michael, 1928-
  • New York Naval Shipyard


  • Emigration and immigration
  • Ethnicity
  • Friendship
  • Immigrants
  • Italian Americans
  • Military uniforms
  • Tailor shops
  • Tailoring
  • Uniforms
  • United States. Navy--Uniforms
  • World War, 1939-1945


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Downtown Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Gravesend (New York, N.Y.)
  • Sands Street (New York, N.Y.)
  • Vinegar Hill Historic District (New York, N.Y.)


Download PDF

Finding Aid

Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection