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Glover Meeks keeps Detroit sharp

Black owned cleaning on Forest and VanDyke presses on. PHOTO BY Crush Media Group

By Eric T. Campbell
The Michigan Citizen

The story of Glover Meeks Cleaners is one that could be told about many of the struggling Black owned dry cleaners throughout Detroit. Starting in the 1970’s, original owner John Meeks operated up to seven stores throughout the metro area. He began to sell his stores in the 90’s. Tony Miller bought two of them in 1996, including the ‘plant’ on Forest and Van Dyke. For the last ten years he’s been under constant pressure just to keep the doors open. The dry cleaning business, according to Miller, just isn’t what it used to be.

“Dry cleaning is a specialty business,” Miller told the Michigan Citizen. “When the economy gets bad….you’ve got a shirt, you can take it home and wash it rather than take it to the cleaners.”

Miller has witnessed a devastating loss of interest in the dry cleaning trade among the younger generation as the older cleaners look to retire from the business.

“We had pressing schools back in the day,” said Miller. “We don’t have those now to teach young people how to press.” Pressing schools were a prominent part of an industry that requires a very particular set of skills.

“You don’t press a silk the same way you press a wool garment. There are different methods to it.”

Black-owned dry cleaners have disappeared with the influx of Korean cleaners, who have bought the businesses and filled the void left by the old guard. Miller estimates that there aren’t more than fifteen Black dry cleaners left in Detroit, but Korean dry cleaners seem to be multiplying. This drastic change in the racial demographic was exacerbated by the closing of two of Detroit’s main dry cleaning suppliers, E.J. Levin and From’s.

“They couldn’t compete with the Korean suppliers”, says Miller.

The growing controversy over the toxicity of perchloroethylene, or perc, has store owners paying top dollar for the non-water-based solvent that is the key ingredient in the dry cleaning process.

Despite the challenges, Glover Cleaners continues to operate with dignity and pride.

Lurleen, in the dry cleaning business for 35 years, expertly applies creases to a police-issue shirt. Miller and his reduced staff take care of police uniforms for $1 a piece as a service to the community.

The large number of garments hanging from the racks waiting to be picked up serve as economic indicators, Miller said.

“People don’t like to pick up their clothes. They use the dry cleaners as an extension of their closet,” he added.

Miller still has the support of several community leaders who need their clothes to look as professional as possible.

Dr. Norris Polks of Blue Cross/Blue Shield says Glover Cleaners is “professional and dependable. The clothes are crisp and sharp.”

The store also has its contingent of neighborhood regulars who still appreciate a finely pressed suit.

When the store was forced to close last summer due to declining sales, people in the neighborhood took immediate notice. Glover Cleaners is one of the few surviving storefronts on the stretch of Forest between Van Dyke and Cadillac.

Currently they’re running a special, any piece of clothing can be dry cleaned for $2.89.

“People who do a lot of dry cleaning are people who care about their garments and want them to look professional,” says Miller.

The trials and tribulations haven’t knocked the steam out of Tony Miller and he plans to take care of the dry cleaning needs on the near east side for as long as he can.

Visit GloverMeeks Cleaners on Forest a block east of Van Dyke or call the store at 313.921.5277.

 

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