John J. Orlando, sewing machine company founder

John J. Orlando
John J. Orlando
Posted: April 25, 2013

John J. Orlando, 92, of Broomall, founder and CEO of Arch Sewing Machine Co., a Philadelphia-based supplier of industrial sewing machines to the apparel trade, died Friday, April 19, of natural causes at home.

Mr. Orlando, who loved the clothing industry, worked through Thursday. When he failed to show up for work Friday, police went to the house and found him sitting in his favorite chair with his hands folded, as if asleep, said his son Anthony J.

"To have our dad working with you every day, it makes you closer than anyone can imagine. He did the accounts, accurate down to the last penny," his son said.

Mr. Orlando was a pillar in the Philadelphia men's clothing industry for more than 60 years, but his roots were humble. He trained as a sewing-machine mechanic, and founded the company in 1957 in the basement of his South Philadelphia home.

"He started with nothing," his son said. "His friends said, 'Johnny, if you open up your own store, we'll buy equipment from you.' He finally listened, and started tiny in the basement, and it became so popular, he had to get a place at Fourth and Arch."

At that time, Arch Street between Fourth and 23d Streets was the hub of the sewing industry. There were sewing factories along Vine Street in Center City and Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia, Anthony Orlando said. Most of the work has gone overseas.

Arch Sewing quickly earned a reputation as the place to go to buy sewing machines and spare parts. During the course of the firm's existence, the City of Philadelphia has forced it to move through eminent domain on three separate occasions to make way for Independence Mall, the Convention Center, and a subway station.

The firm still exists as a family-run operation at Seventh and Callowhill Streets, and has grown from supplying the area to supplying a worldwide market with machines that make men's suits and other clothing.

Clients include Brooks Bros., Ermenegildo Zegna, Polo-Ralph Lauren, After Six Tuxedo, and the U.S. Department of Defense and state and federal prisons.

Born and raised in South Philadelphia, Mr. Orlando graduated from South Philadelphia High School. He served in the Army as a medic at the rank of sergeant during World War II.

After his discharge in 1946, Mr. Orlando returned to South Philadelphia. He married Mary DeSpirito, whom he met in a sewing factory. The couple moved to Broomall in 1966. She died in 2000.

At age 92, Mr. Orlando still drove to work every day. He was active in various professional clothing associations for many years.

In private life, he followed the local sports teams. He held season tickets for the Eagles starting in 1976, and was honored for being the longest continuous season holder of 76ers tickets - since 1972.

"We used to sit in the first row at the Sixers games. It was wonderful," his son said.

Surviving, in addition to his son, are sons John J. and Joseph A.; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

Viewings will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 25, and 9 to 10:15 a.m. Friday, April 26, at D'Anjolell Memorial Home, 2811 West Chester Pike, Broomall.

A Funeral Mass will be at 11 a.m. Friday, April 26, at St. Anastasia Church, 3301 West Chester Pike, Newtown Square.

Donations may be sent to St. Anastasia School Fund, 3309 West Chester Pike, Newtown Square, Pa. 19073.


Contact Bonnie L. Cook

at 215-854-2611 or bcook@phillynews.com.

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