STOP THE PRESSES! Kingston dry cleaner closes after 65 years in business (video)
Vincent DeLuca remembers when there were about 10 dry-cleaning businesses thriving in the city of Kingston.
It was the 1950s, when men and women often dressed to the hilt and people dropped off their weekly wardrobe to have it professionally cleaned and pressed.
Then came what DeLuca calls the “sloppy” decade of the 1960s, and it was pretty much all downhill from there.
Not that it spelled the end for businesses like DeLuca’s, but the more carefree styles and fabrics that came into vogue at the time certainly made a difference in his bottom line.
“Wash-and-wear hurt a little, but mostly, it’s that people just weren’t dressing up anymore. They still don’t,” he said.
“Walk into any bank, and you come and tell me how many tellers you see with a skirt and blouse or a pants suit or a young man in a sports coat and tie.
“Consequently, down through the years, the dry-cleaning business hasn’t flourished as it once did,” DeLuca said.
Naturally, other changes have affected the industry over time, but DeLuca fought hard to adapt, and he’s got oodles of stories to tell how he did.
The affable, affectionate 83-year-old gets nostalgic, even a little choked up, when he recalls those moments. Continued...
“I have never woke a day in my life and said, ‘I don’t want to go to work.’ I enjoyed every single day, even the aggravation,” DeLuca said.
But he said it simply was time for him to close DeLuca Cleaners at 68 Prince St. and say goodbye to the generations of friends he made over 65 years.
He officially did that on April 16 and is making preparations to be completely out of the building by May 15.
DeLuca is selling vintage books he’s accumulated, unclaimed clothing and whatever else people want to buy. One woman even bought the cash register and took it back to her home in Maine, he said.
DeLuca Cleaners was the longest-running dry-cleaning business operated throughout by the same owners, DeLuca said.
DeLuca’s father, Joseph, opened the business in 1947. At the time, the shop was the size of a four-car garage.
“A lot of his friends said, ‘Why are you opening on an off-street?’” DeLuca recalled “My father answered, ‘When they want quality cleaning, they’ll find me.’”
DeLuca’s mother, Irma, worked there as a seamstress and never let a garment leave with an imperfection — whether a tear or a missing button.
“And we never charged extra for the little repairs,” DeLuca said.
Over the years, the family added on and bought the business next door. Continued...
DeLuca worked for the telephone company right after of high school, and it was 1947 when his father asked if he wanted to join him.
“I said ‘yes,’ and here I am today,” he said.
“He was a very strict teacher,” DeLuca said of his father. “There was only one way to do dry cleaning and pressing and that was the right way. There were no cutting corners. He was very, very devoted to his trade.”
As was DeLuca.
And as times changed and environmental laws became more stringent, he made adjustments.
“Years back, there was an agent who picked up your filter waste and dumped it off at the municipal dump off Pine Grove (Avenue), but now it’s considered a hazardous waste, so you have to pay to have it disposed,” he said.
In recent years, DeLuca said, he paid a company called Safety Clean $400 a month to dispose of the two 15-gallon tanks of chemical waste he produced each month.
“There was a good chunk of your profit taken away from you,” he said.
But overall, operating a business was more enjoyable than bothersome, DeLuca said.
He estimates that over 65 years, he dry cleaned a couple of million garments belonging to actors and politicians, police and fire chiefs and just ordinary people. Continued...
“I didn’t get rich doing it, but I had a job I came to every day. I made a living, and I raised a family,” he said.
DeLuca’s wife, Jean, worked alongside him all those years as a seamstress, and his son, Vincent Peter, also helped out. But Vincent Peter didn’t want to continue in the business, his father said.
DeLuca, who is known around these parts as one of the most loyal Kingston High School sports fans, said he will continue to attend the football games that have given him and his wife so much pleasure over the years.
Other than that, he said he’s not sure how he’ll fill his spare time.
“I really don’t know, but I’ll have to find something, even if it’s volunteering,” he said. “Maybe I’ll just aggravate my wife. We’ve been married for 64 years in October. She calls that a life sentence.”
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