Is Dry Cleaning Dying?

by MR Magazine Staff

A customer once gave John Curry some advice: “Have a small field and flower it well.” The words of wisdom came shortly after the death of his father nine years ago, not long before Curry purchased the family dry cleaning business in Savannah, Georgia. He took the remark to heart. While, over these last seven decades, Curry and his family haven’t been plowing the same plot of land, they have been laundering the apparel of Savannah’s doctors, teachers, lawyers, and film actors working in the city at Curry Dry Cleaners, their family-owned and -operated dry cleaning shop — a bonafide field of flowers, passed down from father to child twice over. Curry also recognizes the need for change — his industry isn’t the same as it was when he began working at Curry Dry Cleaners 33 years ago. Churchgoers used to regularly bring in their Sunday best; bankers no longer wear suits and ties. After a boom in garment cleaning in the 1980s, Curry says he’s noticed a steady decline in demand. That pinch isn’t exclusive to the American South. Since 2012, US dry cleaning revenues have been in a steady, but slight, decline at a net negative .5 percent decrease, though that rate is predicted to increase over the next five years, according to a report by IBISWorld. At their peak, garment-cleaning revenues neared $11 billion, in 2010. As of 2017, they’re at $9 billion. Between the recent shuttering of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, mom-and-pop Empire Cleaners — which opened in 1933 — and the bankruptcy and immediate closure of Brockton, Massachusetts-based chain Zoots, the physical evidence of change is often swift and personal. Experts in the field — from business owners to industry organization leaders — credit the downturn in business to many things, including the 2008 financial crisis, increasingly casual office dress codes, smoking bans in bars and restaurants, and fast fashion made from cheaper, machine-washable materials. Taken together, the result is a rapidly changing market that sometimes feels out of control. Read more at Racked.