Drycleaners Fish Hundreds of Items from Pockets Monthly, Survey Says

Ian P. Murphy |

CHICAGO — A survey of British drycleaners recently found that customers left more than 9,000 USB memory sticks in garment pockets in 2008. But many more items get left in customer pockets at drop-off, according to the respondents to this month’s Wire survey — and memory sticks aren’t even close to the top of the list.
The most common items emptied from customer pockets are paper money and pens and pencils, readers say, with 93.8% of drycleaners surveyed collecting $37.80 in cash from garments and 25.4 pens and pencils, on average, every month. With more than 25,000 drycleaning outlets in the U.S., that adds up to almost $1 million and hundreds of thousands of writing implements.
Nine out of 10 drycleaners (87.5%) report pulling lipsticks/balms (9.4 per month, on average), candy/gum/food (66.6 items per month), matches/lighters (12.4 per month) and USB memory sticks (4.25 per month) out of customer clothing regularly. Somewhat more occasional finds are other makeup items (7.1 per month), keys (2.1) and wallets/pocketbooks (2.0).
Although American Drycleaner did not survey average numbers, drycleaners also report that customers leave substantial numbers of over-the-counter medications, credit cards, and paper ephemera such as receipts, business cards, programs and tissues in pockets. Condoms, tampons and jewelry also often get left behind, drycleaners say.
Asked to name the most unusual, expensive or embarrassing items recovered from a customer’s pocket, several drycleaners surveyed mentioned finding illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and crack in customer garments; one found cocaine in “a little old lady’s dress pocket.”
Several operators mentioned finding bullets — often just one, like the Barney Fife character on TV’s Andy Griffith Show. A bullet left undiscovered in a police uniform fired when placed on the hothead press, one operator reports, putting a dent in the back door. And in a gruesome event, one plant failed to remove a foot-long lizard from a garment before drycleaning.
More embarrassing finds include ladies’ underwear (usually not the customer’s, sometimes not a spouse’s), nude photos (of others and of the customer) and other pornography, love letters to mistresses, a leather jock strap and a life-sized model of the male genitalia. One customer’s pocket contained a love letter from a famous male singer, one respondent says — and it wasn’t addressed to the customer’s wife.
Several drycleaners report finding substantial sums of cash up to $5,000; one found a $25,000 check, and three found diamond jewelry worth up to $10,000. But the most expensive find was $10,000 worth of bearer bonds and $14,000 cash sewn into the lining of a set of drapes.
Respondents say they find 97.7% of all items left in garments, on average, “except the ballpoint pens,” one operator quips. And more than half (57.0%) of operators surveyed return everything except wastepaper to the customer in “Look What We Found” bags or envelopes. Some drycleaners choose not to return small change, donating it to a charity or crediting the customer’s order.
Almost all respondents say they make a personal call when they find valuables left in pockets, such as keys, wallets, credit cards, USB sticks, checkbooks and cash, or anything else worth more than $20 — making exceptions for the sake of discretion. “We don’t return items that may compromise relationships or cause embarrassment,” one respondent says.
While the American Drycleaner Wire survey presents a snapshot of readers’ viewpoints at a particular moment, it should not be considered scientific.
Subscribers to American Drycleaner’s Wire e-mails — distributed weekly — are invited to participate in an industry survey each month. The survey is conducted online via a partner website. Each survey is developed so it can be completed in 10 minutes or less. Readers are encouraged to participate, as a greater number of responses will help to better define operator opinions and industry trends.
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About the author

Ian P. Murphy

Freelance Writer

Ian P. Murphy is a freelance writer based in Chicago, and was the editor of American Drycleaner from 1999 to 2011.


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