It could be said that COVID-19 is leaving a stain on the fabric of history. Todd Honeycutt says she’s looking forward to the days, and evenings, when people will again leave stains on their fabrics.
“Since some restaurants have opened back up, a little bit, more food has come in on people’s clothes. We’re like, ‘Oh, good, thank you, be sloppy, get as much food as you can on your clothes, we need the business,’” Honeycutt says of her Lafayette Cleaners, which her father, Bill, opened in 1954.
Located at 1707 Augusta St. in Greenville, Lafayette enjoys a prime location, and typically a robust business especially in the evening-and-wedding-gown market, she says, but revenue from those, along with business attire, has frayed. Normally, her employees, as many as 20, handle some 600 pieces per day, and that includes dress shirts. Now those number fewer than 100 a day, she says.
“It’s still affecting us a great deal. The shirts have picked up a little bit, but then we have down days when we don’t have anybody coming in,” she says.
Fred Sutton, who owns Crescent Cleaners at 717 E. Stone Ave. in Greenville, says business in everyday dress wear has fallen as much as 60% since March 2020. The volume of Oxford-type dress shirts has dropped roughly 70% since last spring at the company, which opened in 1951. He and his wife, Louise, married for 47 years, are keeping two stores running now.
“It started coming back a little bit in July. I thought it was going to turn around a little bit, then it hit again, and it just went right back to nothing, and that’s the way it continued for the rest of the year,” he says.
Tyler Watford, who owns B&C Cleaners, which was established in the 1930s in downtown Greenville and is now at 201 Wade Hampton Blvd., says he’s seeing customers less frequently, and they’re dropping off larger piles, since the start of the pandemic. That creates cash flow problems, he says.
As for dressing habits and working from home (think sweatpants and jammies), he says, “You’ve got that mentality where you put on a garment, and you don’t go anywhere, you’re just hanging around the house or running to the grocery store, and you hang it up and wear it again.”
But here’s the rub: Wearing the same clothes over and over, without cleanings, makes them dirtier.
“It’s true,” Fred Sutton says. “You know, somebody comes in and says, ‘Can you get this neckline?’ ‘Well, yeah, I mean, I scrub and clean it, but if you wore it four times, you’re going to need four washings to get it clean.’”
As if dry cleaners serve as something of a social barometer, Honeycutt says, “When things are good, people have money to spend on their dry cleaning. You get a feel, when people are afraid, if we don’t see them, they’re afraid to go out.”
With a wistful chuckle, she says she asks her third- and fourth-generation customers to get out and get stained. “I mean, seriously, it’s gotten to that point,” she says. “They all laugh, ‘We’re doing our best.’”