A high school guidance counselor once told Terence E. Aversa that he would never amount to anything, said his wife, Sara.
But the hairdresser-turned-businessman ended up running a popular beauty salon in Joliet, as well as clothing stores in Joliet, Oak Brook and Milwaukee. His Milwaukee store, Aversa, is run by his family and specializes in upscale women’s fashion, carrying top designer labels.
Mr. Aversa, a father of seven who at one point lived in a Victorian mansion in Joliet, was considered the “fashion king of women’s apparel” for mom-and-pop stores. He mentored many people in the fashion industry, including famed shoe designer Brian Atwood.
Mr. Aversa “had fabulous style,” said D’Arcy Achziger, vice president of Elliott Lauren in New York. “He always had the greatest merchandise. He grabbed onto anything that was new and interesting.”
Mr. Aversa, 79, died March 1 at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital of complications related to Parkinson’s disease. He was most recently a resident of Burr Ridge.
Born July 29, 1932, in Chicago, Mr. Aversa was raised in the Joliet area by his mother, a factory worker, and grandmother, a Czech immigrant. His mother was also the guardian of two nieces, who grew up like sisters to Mr. Aversa.
Mr. Aversa met his future wife in nursery school, and the two married on Oct. 20, 1954. A few months later he was sent to Germany, where he was stationed for about two years with the Army.
“We lived in a little apartment above a knitting factory” while in Germany, said his wife. “We came back on the ship with him in the dead of winter. It took us around 12 days, and it was so rough. Everybody was seasick. It was quite an ordeal.”
After returning to Joliet, Mr. Aversa worked as a hairdresser for a few years and then decided to open his own shop. He bought a home in Joliet and renovated it into the Red Carpet Beauty Salon, which he operated for nearly 30 years. While at the salon, Mr. Aversa started to feature Christmas ornaments from Mexico and unusual gifts from Europe that became popular among customers.
From there, he branched out into the retail business. “He went to New York and learned the ins and outs of the business himself,” said Sara Aversa. “No one taught him.”
In 1970, he opened his first clothing store, “TJ’s,” which featured fun and trendy fashions from the ’70s and served blue-collar customers in Joliet. He expanded into a larger store in Joliet that was later destroyed in a fire.
For his next stores, Mr. Aversa delved into more upscale fashion, buying from New York, Chicago, Italy and London markets. He often took his children and store employees on buying trips with him so they could learn more about the process.
“Even though we were salespeople, he wanted to broaden our knowledge about the line that was coming in or anything that was going on with the store,” said a former sales clerk, Sally Sitar Pfoertner. “He really mentored his sales staff. We became part of the family.”
He also produced a number of sell-out fashion shows to benefit the Easter Seals at the Rialto Theatre, where he worked one of his first jobs as an usher.
“A lot of people when they move up in the world, they forget where they came from. Terry never did,” said Stephen Mirkin, owner of Stephen W. Mirkin & Associates, a women’s apparel firm. “He treated people with the utmost respect and he received the utmost respect.”
A largely self-educated man, Mr. Aversa had a strong thirst for knowledge, especially in keeping up with the latest trends, according to his daughter, Maria Stadler. He also had a passion for the arts and frequently took his kids to the theater, opera, symphony and other shows.
“He was incredibly inquisitive. He loved information, he loved books and movies and theater and culture,” Achziger said. “That’s what made him so fascinating.”
In addition to Stadler and his wife, Mr. Aversa is survived by his sons, David, Aaron and John; daughters, Reine Jeremias, Nina Aversa and Angela Aversa; 12 grandchildren; and his cousin, Carol Rushing.
Services have been held.