A customer drops off one comforter and picks up another. Her cat is upset with the new puppy so she is following it around the house cleaning up comforters, one at a time.
att Srebrow stands at the front counter at Eagle Cleaners on Williamsburg Boulevard late on Saturday afternoon with his African parrot, Emma, on
his shoulder. He says people are in on Saturday. They work at home during the week “so lots of people come in on Saturday. But we’re still doing 50 percent of what we used to do pre-COVID.” He points out some people stop by just to see Emma, “and kids play with her.”
In March 2020 people just stopped showing up. “I spent endless hours here with no customers and no staff.” He does all of the cleaning onsite and before COVID hit, he had eight employees. Now he is back to only three. In the beginning he was down to 15 percent of his previous business.
Still he says he has done better than most other cleaners. “Four other cleaners in a five mile radius have closed.” He has loyal customers. Seventy percent have been coming since the beginning when his father opened up the cleaners in 1996. “My father did it because he got tired of going to different cleaners who didn’t take responsibility when something was lost or stolen. We opened up to be different than everyone else.”
“Hi Julie.” As if to prove the point, a customer who has been coming since 2006 stops in to pick up some shirts and dresses. She says something happened to a dress in the beginning and Matt made it right. “I’ve been coming here ever since.”
And they replace buttons for free.
Douglas comes in to pick up three shirts. “I’m military and he’s always fixing my buttons; they fall off all the time. This is a great business, and the customer service is always outstanding.”
And he points out they offer a military discount.
Srebrow says the dry cleaning business has changed over the years. “We switched to safer chemicals about five years ago.” Prices have recently gone up on everything. Hangers are in short supply and double the price. He adds that all bills are up—gas, power.
A Listrani’s pizza delivery man drops a box with a vegetarian pizza on the front counter. “Emma loves the pizza crust. She knows when he comes in.” Srebrow pulls off a piece of crust and Emma politely pulls it off bite by bite.
Eagle Cleaners clean everything from shirts to dresses, men’s and women’s suits, comforters, cushions, rugs, leather, drapes. “We repair shoes. We do the hospital curtains for Virginia Hospital Center.”
The most difficult job is wedding dresses. “The long dresses drag on the ground and get a black rim on the hem of the dress. It is difficult to get out.”
And the most difficult stain? Not blood as most would guess. Mustard. It acts like a dye.
A customer, arms loaded with a fluffy white comforter, deposits it on the counter and retrieves a blue patterned comforter that she had dropped off earlier. “The cat is upset about our new puppy so I’m bringing in the comforters as she works through the house.”
Srebrow said when business was slow at the beginning of the pandemic that customers who didn’t need clothes cleaned for work brought in comforters instead to help support the business. “They were stacked from here to the wall.” Cleaners got hit very hard. “People either dress up or they don’t.”
The day after Memorial Day this year it got busier when companies started going back to work so people needed their work clothes again. Now Srebrow says, “We don’t know what to expect.” He says there are a lot of government employees, doctors, lawyers in this area. For the past year they were predicting people would go back to work in September. “But now we have Delta virus so they are saying November or maybe January.” Now he wonders how long this will last. What will be the new schedule for workers? “There are a lot of questions still unanswered.”
But he doesn’t plan to go anywhere. “We are part of the community.”