HAMILTON, Ohio — Although many employees now working from home are celebrating the convenience of their new comfy wardrobes, one industry is getting hit hard by this new fashion trend. The future of dry cleaners is hanging by a very thin wire.
It’s so bad that some businesses may never recover. The National Cleaners Association said dry cleaners' sales are down about 92% in some places across the country.
"The dry cleaning and laundry industry is a dying industry,” said Ketan Pema, co-owner of The Dry Cleaning Shop. “A lot of people are going from business casual to wearing casual clothes, and they're dry cleaning less, and so that has really impacted the industry."
Pema’s business has been family-owned for 15 years and serves five locations in the Tri-State. Since the pandemic, he’s seen three-quarters of his business vanish — in part because of the local workers, but also because hotels aren’t sending clothes from business travelers. Pema had to lay off 10 of his 15 employees.
"It was one of the most difficult things I've had to do,” he said.
Pema’s business has so far survived through federal relief grants and contracts to clean law enforcement and fire uniforms. Another temporary patch may come from the office of Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague, who is pushing for $100 million of the state’s remaining CARES act funding to be used as small business grants.
The Dry Cleaning Shop is also relying on the tenacity of its president, Susy Machalik. She’s the face of The Dry Cleaning Shop and has created delivery services, an online presence and a mobile app. The company’s ultimate goal is to be the Uber of dry cleaning.
"Laundry is not sexy, but someone has to do it, and so that's what we do best is just bring that extra value and smile to that special occasion," Machalik said.
Even with the challenges of 2020, she said, The Dry Cleaning Shop is re-hiring and trying to hold on no matter what.
"Being part of a story is my favorite love, so I'm a fixer by nature," Machalik said.