New York

COVID Claims Another Victim: State Cleaners

State Cleaners opened in 1954. It predates Mitchells or Gold’s – two of Westport’s most famous family businesses.*

But COVID dealt a massive blow to dry cleaners everywhere. Yesterday – shaken by declining business and pressure from his landlord – owner Arnold Raclyn closed State Cleaners as a brick and mortar store. He will now focus entirely on collection and delivery.

It’s the end of an era.

Raclyn’s grandfather, Abraham Zavidow, opened State Cleaners on the corner of Imperial Avenue and Post Road (then called State Street – hence the name) during Dwight Eisenhower’s first full year as President.

He already owned 30 dry cleaners in Manhattan, all served from a facility in Yonkers. As the industry developed smaller machines so that cleaning could be done directly in the shops, Zavidow branched out.

He, his son, and son-in-law opened dry cleaners in Westchester, Long Island, and Connecticut. Westport began its post-war boom; The location near downtown (on the site of a former grocery store) was perfect.

State cleaners in 2019. (Photo/Dave Matlow for WestportNow)

Zavidow’s father ran the Westport store. He died of a heart attack on his way home from work in 1967 at the age of 48. His brother Herb – Raclyn’s uncle – took over and ran it for 20 years.

State Cleaners prospered. Mitchells was next door in Colonial Green. Herb and Ed Mitchell became friends. The cleaners’ tailor did the men’s shop overflow work.

Arnold Raclyn was at the University of Cincinnati when his father died. He got into selling men’s clothing but wanted his own business. In 1992 he bought the Westport business.

Business has been good for many years. But the 2009 recession was difficult; such was the competition for new dry cleaners.

In the fall of 2019, a rent increase forced Raclyn to move. He found a smaller room a block down at 180 Post Road East (next to De Tapas).

In the absence of a facility at the store, Raclyn worked with a friend in White Plains to handle the actual cleaning.

A few months after the move, COVID struck. Business immediately collapsed by 85%.

“Most of my clients were commuters – business people, financiers, lawyers. They dressed up all the time,” says Raclyn.

“Now they worked at home. If they had to wash something, they did it there.”

Additionally, the Westporters stopped going out for entertainment.

People are slowly going back to the office now – part-time. Often, however, they do not wear traditional “office attire”.

And while they go out more, they don’t dress up as much for it either.

In the last year or so, business has been half what it was before the pandemic. Across the country, many dry cleaners have gone out of business or downsized.

When COVID struck, Raclyn’s landlord gave him a break. That — plus PPP funds and a Small Business Administration loan — enabled him to pay his employees and cover reduced rent.

That fall, the landlord demanded full rent. Raclyn requested an extension of the oral agreement until February to see if business picks up again.

The landlord said no. Raclyn had until January 31 to go – and take everything with him.

According to Raclyn, the electrical conveyor and track system is fixed to the floor, ceiling, and walls. A specialized technician is required for removal. The earliest he could come with his crew of four was the weekend of February 11th to 12th.

The landlord then demanded the full rent until February – plus subsequent rent. Raclyn scraped together money to cover October through January. That wiped him out, he says.

On Tuesday – January 31st – Raclyn removed everything but the conveyor system. He left State Cleaners swept clean and locked the door.

State cleaners, yesterday.

Still, he says, the landlord wants February rent — and any other rent arrears from all these COVID months. The matter is now being handled by lawyers.

The few customers who have heard the news of the closure are happy that Raclyn will continue to be there for them, via collection and delivery. He starts next week.

It’s a new chapter after 31 years for Raclyn in Westport – and nearly 70 for the cleaners.

“I’m sorry that happened,” he says. “I grew up in this store as a kid and have been there for so long.

“I love the people here. My greatest regret is the loss of this personal contact. That hurts more than anything.

“But I’ll be doing some of the van driving, so I’m hoping to see some more of them.”

State Cleaners pickup and delivery rates are the same as in store. All work is still guaranteed.

To arrange dry cleaning, call 203-227-7765. This is a familiar number for many customers.

For Raclyn it means even more. It’s the same phone number (although “227” was originally “CApital 7”) that State Cleaners has had since it opened on State Street East — back when Eisenhower was president, the Dodgers were in Brooklyn, and dry cleaning was in business a hot new thing.

PS What’s going on at the former State Cleaners at 180 Post Road East? You guessed it: a nail salon.

*Gault – dating from 1863 – is in its own stratosphere. And Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center was founded in 1922.

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