Back when Tom Dale was doing business above Gray’s Drug in Dinkytown, anybody who needed an article of clothing repaired could get it done on one city block.
Blue Serge handled alterations, Fast Eddie’s Place next door handled shoes and boots, and just around the corner, “Tom the Tailor” Dale, a leatherworker, took care of most everything else.
“Between the three of us we could do everything, and we’ve kind of lost the middle now, and I don’t know how or if we’ll be able to fill that middle,” said Jim Picard, owner of Fast Eddie’s.
A leather pro and inventor who once made a biker jacket out of elk hide and helped cobble giant leather shoes for two men with elephantiasis, Dale left a hole in old Dinkytown when he died Sept. 24. He had a heart attack in his sleep at home, his daughter Kaycie Dale said. He was 63.
“He was one of the great personalities of Dinkytown,” said Skott Johnson, president of the Dinkytown Business Association. “Tom would always come up as one of the original people.”
A big man with a gray Fu Manchu, Dale grew up in Hibbing, Minn., fought in the Vietnam War and then protested the war. He loved motorcycles and the Moto Mutz Motorcycle Club, but he was also a Girl Scout troop leader.
Kaycie Dale said her father came to the Twin Cities to study at the University of Minnesota, dropped out to learn tailoring at vocational school and later opened a shop above the drugstore.
Dale cleaned, repaired and redyed leather, but he relished special projects. He made custom motorcycle seat covers and invented the Zip-R-Strip, a piece of leather with zippers on both sides. The invention extended the size of a biker jacket, allowing bikers who’d put on pounds over the years to keep rocking the same leather.
He once made a biker jacket for a man who’d shot an elk in Utah and incorporated the two holes from the one kill shot into the design, according to Bill Huntzicker, a friend of Dale’s who wrote a tribute to him for Twin Cities Daily Planet.
Even after he left his shop about a decade ago to make way for the Loring Pasta Bar, Dale was still a crucial part of the trio with Fast Eddie’s and Blue Serge.
“I don’t know if Tom would have ever stopped,” Picard said. “I was sending people to him up until he passed away.”
Dale and Picard together made the giant shoes for the men with elephantiasis, which required Dale to spend hours heating and bending the leather, Picard said. The project could not have been profitable, Picard said, but was interesting for Dale and helped the men.
Dale’s daughter said he did leatherwork for Prince, the Coen brothers and Lisa Marie Presley.
“I think he was really an artist,” Kaycie Dale said. “It’s not a very fluid process, but that’s kind of what he loved about it.”
Dale loved corny jokes (particularly when memorized from Laffy Taffy wrappers and recited by his daughter), and cheering up people around him. He was a devoted Girl Scout troop leader who sold a lot of cookies, according to Huntzicker, who got to know Dale when their daughters were in the same baby-sitting co-op.
“After the funeral, so many people came and said, ‘Tom inspired me to be a better person,’ ” Kaycie Dale said. “That’s what I took away from it, was being inspired to be a better person.”
Dale is survived by his daughter, his brother, John, and his ex-wife, Sharron. Services have been held.