Baton Rouge dry cleaners and tailors have taken a big hit during the pandemic

It’s been nearly a year since Zoom meetings became our new norm. Struggles for businesses such as bars and restaurants have often dominated news stories. But almost every business has been affected by the pandemic, and many have been struggling invisibly. One such industry: dry cleaning and alteration services.

With fewer holiday parties, smaller weddings and more informal events—not to mention all that working from home in sweatpants—these businesses have suffered a large drop in business.

Welsh’s Cleaners owner Ricky Welsh says that overall business has dropped about 50%. Welsh says summer is predictably slow, but once school comes back in the fall, business normally ramps up. Football season festivities carry on to holiday party season, which in south Louisiana lasts all the way through Mardi Gras and Easter. While people may be more likely to venture out now than they did back at the beginning of the pandemic, Welsh’s is currently processing about 60% of the business it was seeing last year at this time.

“I attribute it to people not being able to leave their house to go out to eat, or go to functions or parties for holidays like Christmas and Mardi Gras,” Welsh says. “Working from home has hurt, but a big part of what’s hurt us is that people weren’t able to wear their going-out clothes, whether for going out to eat or church. Any kind of holiday function helps us. Weddings and balls are big for us.”

Welsh says his customer base is still there, but the volume of clothes those clients bring in to get cleaned has greatly depreciated. Welsh’s also does wet cleaning and pressing, but interest in those services has diminished, too.

“People still want to take advantage of getting things cleaned and pressed, but instead of bringing in 10 or 15 pieces, they’re bringing in five or six,” Welsh says, adding, “If things keep opening up, though, I see us coming back slowly.” 

Sunshine Cleaners owner Donny Moore also says his business changed rapidly during the beginning of Louisiana’s COVID outbreak.

“It was almost overnight that our business dropped about 70%,” Moore says. “We’re slowly heading in the right direction, but business is down significantly.”

Until life is back to normal and people are back at events, restaurants and the office, it’ll continue to be a struggle, Moore says.

Kean’s Fine Dry Cleaning, which has several Capital Region locations, even had to go as far as closing a location due to a decline in business. 

“We closed one of our locations, and we sold another location, which we are going back into and leasing under a smaller footprint,” says general manager Stephen Rockenbaugh.

Kean’s continues to offer specialized services like cleaning, restoration and preservation of wedding dresses; pillow restoration; and leather cleaning. And there’s one group whose needs for service seems to have increased: doctors and medical workers, as well as police.

Businesses specializing in alterations have been struggling with similar issues. Stitch Fine Clothing Alteration owner Mason Ta’s store specializes in all types of alterations, but his work on wedding gowns and attire has taken a significant hit.

“There were a lot of gowns here for spring weddings that got postponed. Not as many people are getting engaged, because they don’t know what to expect,” Ta says. “And a lot are keeping their weddings small.”

Pre-pandemic, Ta was accustomed to altering up to 12 to 15 bridesmaid dresses per wedding. Now he usually does only about two or three per wedding. Stitch once also altered a lot of nice men’s suits, coats and pants for work or semi-formal events.

“Now, a lot of them work from home,” Ta says. “They’re probably in their pajama pants. And who’s to blame them?” 

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