State Cleaners opened in 1954. It’s older than Mitchells or Gold’s — 2 of Westport’s most famous family-owned businesses.*
But COVID dealt a ferocious blow to dry cleaners everywhere. Yesterday — buffeted by declining business, and under pressure from his landlord — owner Arnold Raclyn closed State Cleaners as a brick-and-mortar store. He’ll concentrate now entirely on pickup and delivery.
It’s the end of an era.
Raclyn’s grandfather, Abraham Zavidow, opened State Cleaners on the corner of Imperial Avenue and the Post Road (then called State Street — thus the name) during Dwight Eisenhower’s first full year as president.
He already owned 30 dry cleaners in Manhattan, all served from a plant in Yonkers. When the industry developed smaller machines, so cleaning could be done right inside stores, Zavidow branched out.
He, his son and son-in-law opened dry cleaners in Westchester, Long Island and Connecticut. Westport was beginning its post-war boom; the location near downtown (at the site of a former grocery store) was perfect.
Zavidow’s father ran the Westport store. He died at 48 in 1967, of a heart attack on his way home from work. His brother Herb — Raclyn’s uncle — took over, and ran it for 20 years.
State Cleaners flourished. Mitchells was next door, in Colonial Green. Herb and Ed Mitchell became friends. The cleaners’ tailor took care of the men’s store overflow work.
Arnold Raclyn was at the University of Cincinnati when his father died. He went into menswear sales, but wanted his own business. In 1992 he bought the Westport store.
Business was good for many years. But the 2009 recession was difficult; so was competition for new dry cleaners.
In the fall of 2019, a rent increase forced Raclyn to move. He found a smaller space a block away, in the back of 180 Post Road East (next to De Tapas).
Lacking an in-store plant, Raclyn partnered with a friend in White Plains to handle the actual cleaning.
A few months after the move, COVID struck. Immediately, business plummeted by 85%.
“Most of my customers were commuters — business executives, financial people, lawyers. They dressed up all the time,” Raclyn says.
“Now they were working at home. If they had to wash something, they did it there.”
In addition, Westporters also stopped going out for entertainment.
Slowly, people are now going back to the office — part time. Often though, they don’t wear traditional “office clothes.”
And though they go out more, they’re not dressing up as much for that either.
For the past year or so, business has been just half what it was pre-pandemic. Across the nation, many dry cleaners have gone out of business, or downsized.
When COVID hit, Raclyn’s landlord gave him a break. That — plus PPP money, and a Small Business Administration loan — allowed him to pay his employees, and cover the reduced rent.
This fall, the landlord asked for full rent. Raclyn requested an extension of the verbal agreement through February, to see if business picked up.
The landlord said no. Raclyn had to leave by January 31 — and take everything with him.
Raclyn says the electric conveyor and rail system is attached to the floor, ceiling and walls. A specialized technician is needed to remove it. The earliest he could come, with his crew of 4, was the weekend of February 11-12.
The landlord then demanded full rent through February — plus back rent. Raclyn scraped together money to cover October through January. That wiped him out he says.
On Tuesday — January 31 — Raclyn removed everything except the conveyor system. He left State Cleaners broom clean, and locked the door.
Still, he says, the landlord wants February rent — and all other back rent, from all those COVID months. The matter is now being handled by attorneys.
The few customers who heard the news of the closing are glad Raclyn will still be there for them, via pickup and delivery. He’ll start next week.
It’s a new chapter, after 31 years for Raclyn in Westport — and nearly 70 for the cleaners.
“I’m sorry this happened,” he says. “I grew up as a kid in that store, and I’ve been there so long.
“I love the people here. My biggest regret is losing that personal contact. That hurts more than anything.
“But I’ll do some of the van driving, so I hope I can still see some of them.”
State Cleaners’ prices for pickup and delivery will be the same as in-store. All work is still guaranteed.
To arrange for dry cleaning, call 203-227-7765. For many customers, that’s a familiar number.
For Raclyn, it means even more. It’s the same phone number (though “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 in-store dry cleaning was a hot new thing.
PS: What’s going in at the former State Cleaners, at 180 Post Road East? You guessed it: a nail salon.
*Gault — dating back to 1863 — is in a stratosphere of its own. And Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center was founded in 1922.
(“06880” is your source for business news. We cover new stores, old ones, and the intersection of both. Please click here to help support our work. Thank you!)
Back in the early 1950s, before 1957 and before the Connecticut Turnpike was built, land was fairly cheap in Westport. It’s too bad the family couldn’t have invested and bought a tiny piece of property to build their business on. The mortgage would have been paid off long ago, so it would have been only taxes to the town. It seems with their other stores, they had a decent cash flow and may have been able to swing a downpayment.
One other comment I’d like to make. Across from the golf range, sitting on a 1/4 acre of land, was a dilapidated red building I knew as an antique store. We sold it around 1974 for $250,000 dollars. That would have been a perfect location for a dry cleaning business. I believe it was purchased by my grandfather in 1910 as part of the 4 plus acres he purchased for $600 dollars. There were opportunities back then to get land. (When I was five years old, and we still farmed, a group of Puerto Ricans lived in the antique store for six months a year. They came up from Puerto Rico for six months to work on the farm and lived in the antique store on the Post Road. When winter approached, they went back home and returned the following March.)
Hi Jack, my family tried to buy the building at 224 Post Road East several times, but the owners were not willing to sell. Oh….if only;)
Well… you do need two willing parties. Good luck in the future!
I hope everyone continiues to support Arnold and State Cleaners. I am thrilled that at least they can continue to serve the community as best as they possibly can.