Historic launder on brink of closing, as dry cleaners' business nationwide is drying up

As more companies opt for virtual options during the coronavirus pandemic, our daily routines have shifted.

When was the last time you needed to get a suit jacket pressed, or a dress professionally steamed?

FOX 5’s Emilie Ikeda learned dry cleaners’ business is drying up nationwide, ranking as one of the hardest hit industries this year.

And no launder is immune to the pandemic’s impact – even the well-established and arguably historic, Sig Samuels Dry Cleaners in Midtown.

Old ledgers indicate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Congressman John Lewis, U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young and Andre 3000 all frequented Sig Samuels over the past six decades.

Dr. Kenneth Augustus Walker drives past dozens of dry cleaners on his 30-minute commute to Sig Samuels, a small price for what he labels “pure professionalism.”

“This is what I call the intersection of Atlanta,” Walker said. “[The Collins family] draws everybody from the every crosswalk, no matter the income status, no matter their political stuff, he touches everybody.”

The family business builds on three generations, priding itself on customer service.

Tom Collins Sr. poses with all four of his sons. (Collins Family)

“We treat you the same whether you live under the park bench or you're from Park Place,” said current owner, Steve Collins.

But even with some of the most loyal customers, garments on the conveyor are far and few between these days. The coronavirus pandemic has slashed Collins’ sales by upwards of 70 percent.

“We used to do thousands of pieces of clothes each day, and you're down to hundreds,” Collins described.

The whirring of the shop’s fans is like a ticking clock, counting each day of plummeting profits, as more companies extend working-from-home policies through the end of 2020.

“Our forte is not sweatpants and t-shirts,” Collins said. “We're businesswomen, businessmen reliant.” – And so are dry cleaners nationwide.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded a 47.5% unemployment rate for the “Industries in the Personal and Laundry Services” in April 2020. That subsection includes: personal care services; death care services; laundry and drycleaning services; and a wide range of other personal services, such as pet care (except veterinary) services, photofinishing services, temporary parking services, and dating services.

The statistics keep Collins up at night, admitting he had to let go of his first set of employees this week. He said he's in the fight of his life, with his father and grandfather's legacy at stake.

“That's why I'm scratching and clawing and fighting as hard as I can to keep the doors open and keep this thing alive,” Collins said.

Sig Samuels Dry Cleaners is introducing new options to help attract customers, including delivery and curbside drop-off and pick-up.

The Midtown business is also expanding the types of items its willing to clean. Collins said, if it’s dirty, he’ll clean it.

“If your dog wont bite me, I’ll wash him too,” Collins quipped. “Just understand, we're here for Atlanta, just as we have been for over 60 years.”