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The last stitch: Reed's Alterations closes shop

BOURBONNAIS — For the past 68 years, family members have been operating seamstress shop Reed’s Alterations, first in Kankakee, then in Bradley and now in Bourbonnais.

That thread, which connected three generations of seamstresses, is about to unravel as the business is set to close May 31.

Opened in 1954 by Florence Reed of Kankakee, the business was then passed down to Sue Manis, her daughter, and then to Becki Gossage, of Kankakee, Florence’s granddaughter and Manis’s daughter, in 1997.

Gossage, 63, has been operating the business at 441 S. Main St., Bourbonnais, not far from the Olivet Nazarene University campus, for these past 25 years.

And with arthritis setting in her hands and a desire to explore more than just needles, threads and sewing machines, Gossage decided earlier this year the time had come to call it a career.

Born and raised in Limestone, the 1976 graduate of Herscher High School said with no one left to take over the business — her son, Grant, is an architect — the time has come to end what has been a rewarding and busy career.

There is hardly a garment which Gossage has not altered nor mended. Prom dresses, wedding dresses, men’s suit coats and pants, uniform patches and blue jean repairs.

She has seen it all.

“You’d be surprised how many people have blue jeans repaired rather than thrown away. Once someone has a favorite pair of jeans, they don’t like to part with them.”

LONGTIME CUSTOMERS

She has also watched little girls come in with their mothers for a first communion dress, only later to fit that same young lady for a prom dress, then a wedding dress.

As a seamstress, she almost becomes part of families all across Kankakee County. And it is for that reason — the connection to so many families — that makes saying goodbye so difficult, so emotional.

“I thought I would be doing this forever once I moved to this location,” she said.

But time and events have a way of telling someone that perhaps there are other things in life than spools of thread and pin cushions filled with sharp needles.

The shop was started in Reed’s home and then moved to a Kankakee location. It later was located along Kennedy Drive in Bradley not far from the long-standing Burger King restaurant.

In 1997, Gossage moved to a much larger location, where she has been the past quarter century.

It has been quite a stretch for a seamstress who never could have imagined herself being a seamstress.

A NATURAL SEAMSTRESS?

Gossage noted she came about learning her craft quite by accident. It was her grandma who asked if she could tear apart a seam and put it back together. She succeeded.

“I didn’t know she was training me,” she joked.

Maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t, but in the end it appears she may have been doing just that.

Although, sewing and garment alterations was not her first career. Gossage worked in banking and at Gordon Electric designing lighting.

“When I was younger I thought I would do anything but this.”

She certainly wouldn’t be the first child to have not, at least initially, sought to follow the family business, but ultimately wind up there.

But having worked for 25 years and entering into her 60s, Gossage was sure she did not want to work into her 70s or 80s — and simply did not want to dread the thought of working in the back room of the seamstress business at those ages.

Having once had four employees, new workers became more and more difficult to find. For the past five years, her business has been a one-woman enterprise. She works at the machines and handles the front as customers come in.

She is adamant she is not closing shop due to the lack of business. Quite the contrary. She is having trouble keeping up with the work.

“I’m always busy. I’ve never worried about a lack of business.” She notes she has at least 200 dedicated customers who provide a nearly constant stream of work.

But the days have become somewhat longer. Her mother passed away one year ago. She misses the company her mother would provide.

“I’m tired and she’s not here.” She pauses to dab tears rolling down her cheek. She apologizes for getting emotional.

UNKNOWN FUTURE

Asked how large the shop is, she responded with a quick “I have no idea.”

One thing she does know for sure is that her husband, David, has informed her she will not be working for the next year. He wants her to kick back and relax.

To make sure she follows through on that order, she is selling anything and everything. She has already sold two sewing machines. There are still eight to go. The location is filled with all-things sewing.

Anyone interested in business items should call 815-932-4337.

She noted arthritis has set in on her hands. It can be painful. Advil is consumed regularly to deal with the discomfort.

“I’ve been constantly tearful this past month. This is hard. I’m bittersweet about it. This place has certainly been my home. I think I should have set up a cot.”

Gossage believes perhaps this is the best way to end the business. No one stepping in, no one taking over.

“I wouldn’t feel good if someone came in and didn’t run it like they should. I want people to remember this business the way we ran it.”

But how can a longtime businesswoman just do nothing? She kicking around an idea of two.

“I love gourmet cooking.” Her face lights up.


Local
'Buddy bench' honors late St. George Elementary student Tanner Torres

BOURBONNAIS — The day after Tanner Torres would have graduated eighth grade, his mom, dad, brother, sister and classmates gathered for the unveiling of a “buddy bench” across from his school’s playground in honor of the friendly, outgoing boy who died in a car accident in August 2019 at age 11.

A child in need of companionship can sit on the buddy bench to signal to other children that they would like someone to play with.

If the memories of his family and friends are any indication, it’s a concept Tanner would have gotten behind 100%.

“If there was someone sitting by themselves at lunch or by themselves on the playground, Tanner would spark up a conversation to try to get them involved,” his mom Jaime Torres said. “This is something we have taught our kids since they were very little — be friendly and kind to everyone.”

Tanner’s dad Juan Torres added that the buddy bench is the perfect memorial for his late son because “that’s who he was.”

“He was always the one that had a great heart and was always the one to always include people, or give up whatever he had to make sure everyone else was included in what they wanted to do,” Juan said. “He was always very giving.”

Juan also described Tanner as outgoing, silly and fun.

“He was like the life of the party,” he said.

Tanner enjoyed sports like baseball and wrestling. More than one friend described him as “really good at go-karts.”

An active Boy Scout who expressed interest in the military and police and fire trades, Tanner was honorary fire chief for a day in February 2019 when taking part in Scout Week activities hosted by the village of Bourbonnais.

When Tanner’s twin brother Trevor Torres turned 12 in April 2020 — shortly after the pandemic lockdown went into effect — local police and fire vehicles along with family and friends did a drive-by parade past the Torres’ home to help Trevor celebrate his first solo birthday.

Now 14 years old, Trevor graduated from St. George Elementary Monday evening before attending the buddy bench unveiling at his school Tuesday afternoon.

A boy of few words, Trevor, who will be a freshman at Bishop McNamara Catholic High School next year, said he thinks his brother would have liked the buddy bench.

“Just thank you to everyone that came,” Trevor said.

Jaime noted that her twin boys are “total opposites,” with Tanner having been the more talkative of the two, and Trevor being the quieter brother.

However, the boys do share a love of sports. Trevor said he enjoys baseball and looks forward to getting involved in baseball, golf and wrestling in high school.

Victoria Torres, 15, the boys’ older sister currently attending Bishop McNamara, is also an athlete; she is involved in softball, volleyball and bowling.

“I think that [the buddy bench] is like a really good idea for his friends and stuff, and just like in general, to remember him at the school,” Victoria said.

And remember him they do.

At graduation, a photo of Tanner was placed on an empty seat, and his family was given an honorary eighth-grade diploma.

Tanner also had a memorial photo and poem placed in his class’ yearbook.

“I can’t emphasize enough how great the school has been to us with the whole situation,” Juan said. “From providing our kids and their friends with support from counselors, to just keeping his memory alive throughout the years.”

Lucas Garrett, 14, recalled that Tanner was friendly, happy and willing to help anyone with anything.

“He would try to make friends with everybody, try to make conversation with everybody,” Lucas said. “He was just a great soul.”

Lucas said that, while he had only known Tanner for a few years, they had gotten really close in that time. They used to play wiffle ball and ride dirt bikes together.

“He was always energetic and just ready to do anything,” Lucas said. “He was the type of kid who wouldn’t say no.”

The day before the car accident, Lucas joined Tanner on a trip to Six Flags.

“I remember telling him, ‘I’ll see you at school,’” he said.

Though Lucas is sad his friend is gone and misses him, he has also gained some hard-earned wisdom and perspective on life from the tragedy.

“I feel like the bad things always happen to the best people,” Lucas said. “Hey, it’s a reality check. Anything can happen to anyone at any moment, so you’ve got to live your life to the fullest.”

Brayden Watters, 14, remembered Tanner as being loving and protective of his brother Trevor. He also recalled the good times they would have hanging out and sleeping over at friends’ houses.

“I always remember him as, he is one of the goofiest people,” Brayden said. “He always made jokes. He was very optimistic.”

Principal Christine Johnston said the administration had discussed different ways to honor Tanner’s memory.

The PTO had discussed putting a buddy bench near the playground in the past, and this seemed like an appropriate time and reason to move forward with it.

The school district paid for the bench to be installed, she said.

“Tanner would have really liked it,” Johnston said. “I remember watching him play basketball [by the playground]. It really is a perfect location.”


Local
Armstrong gains financing

KANKAKEE — Armstrong Flooring, Inc., a longtime-Kankakee-based manufacturer, gained approval Tuesday for much-needed financing totaling $24 million.

The financing will provide the Lancaster, Pa.-based company with operating capital as it continues to pursue what it labeled a “swift, value-maximizing sale process.”

Armstrong, of course, has been a longtime key Kankakee County employer. Located at 1401 N. Hobbie Ave., on the city’s northern edge, the company employs about 350.

The Kankakee plant operates seven days a week. The location manufactures floor tiles.

It was also recently reported that Armstrong paid Michel Vermette, its chief executive officer, and at least four other managers $4.8 million in annual incentive payments just prior to the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing earlier this month.

Court documents cited by Yahoo News stated the incentives were needed to keep the executives on the job.

The company continues to work closely with several interested bidders for some or all of its assets and is operating its business as usual throughout the sale process.

The $24 million will be used in part for a revolving line of credit.

At the bankruptcy court hearing, Armstrong also received approval of its “Critical Vendor Motion,” which authorizes the company to use $9 million for payment to creditors and service providers whose goods and services are “truly critical” to its operations.

About 10 days ago, the company announced it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. A Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing allows a company experiencing financial difficulties protection from creditors for a limited period of time. The protection allows a company an opportunity to reorganize itself.

The Armstrong financial situation is not new. The company warned in November supply chain disruptions, as well as rising inflationary pressures it anticipated would continue into 2022 — regarding transportation, labor and raw materials — would likely knock the company out of balance with its credit agreements.

In Armstrong’s court filings, it noted it owes creditors $317.8 million and has assets worth $517 million.


Illinois
'Ghost guns' target of new law

SPRINGFIELD — Owners of firearms that do not have serial numbers — referred to as ghost guns — will have 180 days to take them to a federal firearm dealer to have them serialized or they will risk being charged with a misdemeanor.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the measure containing that provision, House Bill 4383, into law Wednesday at an event in Chicago, aiming to crack down on the growing use of unserialized ghost guns that can be obtained without a background check.

“Unserialized, untraceable ghost guns have left a gap in the criminal law for those who wish to inflict violence and chaos on our streets, and they have abused and exploited that loophole,” Rep. Kam Buckner, the bill’s House sponsor and a Chicago Democrat who is running for mayor, said at a news conference.

The governor called the measure “one piece of a larger strategy” in reducing gun violence, but he said ultimately the federal government must take a more sweeping approach.

“We’re engaged in a multi-intergovernmental effort to interdict the transport of guns across state lines illegally,” he said. “We know that 60% of the guns that are involved in shootings in the city of Chicago come from out of state, they come from Indiana mainly. But go downstate and talk to people where guns are coming across from Missouri. … Other states that surround us have much more lax laws for acquiring guns. That’s a real challenge for us.”

The measure applies to 3D-printed guns as well as unfinished receivers, which include “any forging, casting, printing, extrusion, machined body, or similar article” that can be converted into a functional firearm. It does not apply to antique, permanently inoperable guns or those manufactured before 1968.

The owner of an unserialized firearm or unfinished frame will have 180 days from Wednesday’s signing – or until Nov. 14 – to take it to a federal firearm dealer to receive a serial number.

After that span, possession of an unserialized, unfinished firearm will become a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. A subsequent violation would be a Class 3 felony, punishable by two to five years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

Sellers of those guns or frames would be guilty of a Class 4 felony, punishable by one to three years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000, for a first violation. Subsequent violations would be a Class 2 felony punishable by three to seven years and a fine of up to $25,000.

Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly said ISP labs analyzed 62 unserialized ghost guns in 2020, 180 in 2021 and already 164 in 2022.

“So we’re gonna double it every year at this rate,” he said. “Criminals are finding it easier and cheaper to buy an unfinished firearm frame than to steal a gun or find one on the streets where the serial number has been defaced. With a little work, the unfinished frame becomes a fully functioning firearm.”

Kelly said ghost guns include pistols, AR-15s and extended and high-capacity magazines.

Pritzker said the measure builds on a Firearm Owners Identification card overhaul passed in 2021 that strengthened ISP’s FOID enforcement abilities and directed the agency to create a searchable database with serial numbers of stolen guns.

He also touted the state’s increased investments in ISP crime labs and new ISP officers and said guns are only part of the problem.

“It’s also the underlying challenges – poverty in our communities, mental health treatment and substance use treatment – these are things that we have gone about significant efforts and dollars to try to build back up in our state,” he said. “It was better seven years ago and then we had two years of a budget impasse that wiped out a lot of those services. We’re now not only rebuilding but actually doing better than before, and that’s the direction we need to go because you want to prevent violence before it happens.”

Pritzker signed the bill in Chicago, where the city’s police department has recorded 207 murders this year, down from last year’s number of 223 over the same time frame but far outpacing 2018-2020.

Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said ghost guns are a growing threat, and he noted there’s been a 500 percent increase in shootings at police officers in Chicago over the past two years.

“It’s just a ruse to not have a serial number or a way to track and hold someone accountable to either manufacturing or buying and selling the gun,” he said of the increase in ghost guns. “So this bill will close that ability to really hide from consequences, particularly in our courts, because it’s not serialized.”

The Gun Violence Prevention PAC, which backed the measure, said in a news release Illinois was the 12{span}th{/span} state and first in the Midwest to regulate ghost guns.


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