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Life & Times in The Industry: Personal Memories from Those Who Were There

I came to Atlanta after working at Philco. We had a life savings of $10,000, and in 1965, bought a Martinizing franchise. The third week I was open, I had a record low every day. After about five or six months, I found out I was making double what I’d made at Philco — but then I also found out I’d worked 80 hours instead of 40.
After 10 or 15 years, I decided I wanted a more upscale image and came up with the idea of Fashion Care. “Fashion” meant quality; “Care” meant security. I think I built a good image. Then, I gave my three children the business as a way to get even with them for their teenage years.

Jim Patrie, former operatorFashion Care CleanersAtlanta


In my early days in the industry, I remember many speakers would begin their remarks, “Lady and gentlemen,” because I was the only female at the meeting or seminar. Soon after, American Drycleaner asked me to do a feature story on prominent women in the industry. After a lot of research, I found five (of whom I can only remember four): Eloise Cissell, Dorothy Chin, Dorothy Lyle and Peggy Dwyer.
But the winds of change had started to blow, and by the late ’60s, a group of us got together to form Women in Laundry/Drycleaning (WILD). Our purpose? To encourage women to speak out, run for association offices and step into management positions.

[/NP]Within a few years, the special talents and insights women can bring to clothing care were starting to be appreciated. Soon, women gained the confidence to run drycleaning companies on their own. It seems incredible, doesn’t it, that it took so long?

Marcia Miller Todd, publisherFabricare Canada magazine


Tuchman Cleaners started as a tiny family business consisting of my brother (cleaner and manager), my father (the best tailor in town), a spotter, a finisher and a routeman. My brother was drafted into the army in 1941 (WWII, “The Good War”), and I was picked to replace him. I was 16-and-a-half. I hated it.
In 1943, I was drafted again — this time by the U.S. Army. At the end of the war [and a brief acting career in Hollywood], my brother and I entered into a partnership to build a “different” kind of drycleaning company.

[/NP]I returned to Indianapolis still star-crazy, and called every celebrity that came through to offer them free cleaning in exchange for allowing me to use their picture in an ad saying, “When I’m in Indianapolis, I always bring my best clothes, because I know that Tuchman Cleaners knows how to take care of them.”
My wife and I invited the stars to our house for dinner, and we seldom got turned down — if you wanted a decent meal in Indy after a show, you had come to our house or be content with a fast-food restaurant. Who came? Jack Benny [pictured with the author and a radio announcer], Zazu Pitts, Joe E. Brown (remember Harvey and Around The World in 80 Days?), Joan Crawford, Tommy Tune, Robert Klein, Margaret Thatcher and dozens more. My wife and I had the time of our lives.

Sid TuchmanTuchman Training SystemsSan Francisco


At the end of my first show, [Forse] let us all go. The industry was doing badly due to permanent press, and the only dry-to-dry machine at the time was a Permac. I went into business for myself; my idea was to use a modular drycleaning machine, and it took off.
Regulations are killers, but you just can’t quit. There’s an old saying: “Once you get perc in your blood, you can’t leave.” Except now, we don’t have the perc.

John Kelleher Sr.Kelleher Equipment & SupplyLong Beach, Calif.


My life as a drycleaner began April 7, 1978, inside an old ARCO gas station. “When you come in, turn these switches on, then turn on the boiler, and here is a key,” my mentors told me. “You are now a drycleaner.” It was a big step up from waterbed salesman.
Fairlane Cleaners’ plant was inside the service bays of that gas station, and we charged “$.69, Any Garment.” The workhorse was an Elco split-pocket transfer unit. In the beginning, $1,500 a week for the plant and two agencies was good money, but before long, I was running 1,200 to 1,500 lbs. a day in less-than-ideal conditions.
Although I’d have many doubts as I pressed pants at 5:00 a.m. making next to nothing, I persevered. “Don’t worry — just do what I say, and it will work out,” said the owner, John Shelton. He had a nice house and car, so I believed him.

Gordon ShawHangers CleanersSan Diego


My grandparents and parents had been in the business since the 1920s, and in 1971, I started working for my in-laws, who had also been in the industry a long time. Every time I walk into a petroleum or laundry plant, the smell awakens old memories of riding in the delivery truck of my parents’ laundry. That — and the encouragement I get from customers as a trainer — makes this my life’s work.

Kenney SlattenKenney Slatten Training Co.Prescott, Ariz.


There’s one incident I’ve never forgotten. In the late ’70s, I traveled Eastern North Carolina. One of my best customers was Denny Shaffer, the owner of One-Hour Koretizing in Fayetteville. Denny was president of the Sierra Club, and he appointed me national membership chair.
On one of my monthly trips, the lady who ran the call office asked me to please go with her to call on a customer who had been given someone else’s pair of pants, and I agreed. We got to the family’s house, and found that the man had died. We were invited in; he was in his coffin, wearing the trousers. When we lifted him up, we found that they had been cut up the back to fit! The other customer was paid for his suit.

Jerry LiebermanB&G LiebermanCharlotte, N.C.

Click here for Part 1.
Click here for Part 2.
Click here for Part 4.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected] .