Gary Sahadi is still going to his Lewis Avenue dry-cleaning shop every morning, but only to help the stragglers claim their last -- and sometimes forgotten -- drop-offs.
After 65 years in business, Colonial Cleaners stopped cleansing soup-stained ties, dingy drapes, and rumpled suits at the end of June.
Business is just no longer the same.
"When I started, everybody wore a coat and tie. You were important if you wore a coat and tie. Then I watched it switch, where you were important if you could wear a polo and Dockers to work," Mr. Sahadi said. "Now nobody wears a coat and tie."
Tuesday, Mr. Sahadi, 53, dressed down in a striped polo shirt, a habit he developed not long after he joined the business his father started and realized his daily duties could range from taking orders, to pressing shirts, to crawling under the equipment for repairs and being up to his elbows in grease.
He jokingly said toiling that hard wasn't what he had in mind going to work with his dad -- but he's struggling with having to close the family business. "I feel like I'm losing a friend," he said. "This is all I know and all I've done for 23 years now. In that respect, it's hard."
When Mr. Sahadi's father, Phil, returned from Europe after World War II, he opened a small bar but quickly learned running a tavern wasn't for him. His next venture was a dry-cleaning business, which he opened in 1947 near the intersection of Lewis Avenue and Laskey Road. That worked out much better.
"It was an up-and-coming thing at the time," Mr. Sahadi said. "The war was over, the economy was doing good, people were dressing up going to church. People were ruining clothes trying to wash them. Dry cleaning was in its infancy; it was just starting to pick up. There were only one or two dry cleaners open here when he started."
Colonial Cleaners grew and eventually expanded to another location in Sylvania. That shop moved to Monroe Street near Franklin Park in the late 1990s.
As Phil Sahadi neared retirement in the late 1980s, Mr. Sahadi left a sales job in the medical field to join his brother Darryl, who had worked as a chemist with Owens-Illinios Inc., to run Colonial Cleaners. The two now co-own the business. Their father died in 2006.
At its peak, Colonial had 28 employees and processed 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of dry cleaning a week. Now, that's down to 1,000 pounds a week. Businessmen used to bring them hundreds of ties a week. Now they might get a dozen.
Mr. Sahadi blames much of that on the increasing casual American office, which he said started with casual Fridays at banks and trickled down to become more a norm than an exception.
A shifting population that saw fewer people passing their stores on their way to downtown offices, increasing government regulation on their cleaning solvents, rising costs, and a still-weak economy also have proved challenging.
For example, when Mr. Sahadi started, perchloroethylene cost $2 a gallon. Now the cleaning solvent costs $35 a gallon. And because nearly everything the business uses, from clothing bags to spotting agents, is petroleum-based, volatile oil prices also increased many of their costs.
The Sahadis weathered the storm as long as they could, but after throwing cash at the business for so long, they decided enough was enough.
"It's supposed to be feeding us. We're not supposed to be feeding the company," Mr. Sahadi said. "That was when we made the decision. As much as we miss our customers and as much as they're going to miss us, it wasn't the choice we wanted, but it was the choice we had to make."
Suzi Sahadi, Gary Sahadi's wife, likened the past two weeks to an enduring funeral, complete with tears shared with long-time customers.
"It wasn't just a [grocery] store," she said. "We got involved. I sent out birthday cards, anniversary cards. When people went to the hospital we sent get well cards."
They'd like to either sell the business as a turnkey operation or sell off the assets.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: email@example.com or 419-724-6134.