I Miss My Dry Cleaner

Published: Mar 10, 2009

His name is Willie, and he has a young granddaughter. He runs Jan Sun with his wife, Peggy, and is so known for his skill with an iron that one customer who moved across the country still mails his best shirts to New York to be pressed.

I give them my dry cleaning but not my laundry, because there are (or were) three shops on my block, and I wanted to spread my business around. My laundry goes across the street, where my guy always remembers my last name, and how to spell it correctly. When I owe him, say, $15.30, he takes only the bills and leaves the dimes on the counter.

I’m not the first to point out that New York–Manhattan especially–is a city of small towns. Within a couple of blocks I have all the basic businesses I need. My deli. A decent tailor, two cobblers. The place for flowers, two coffee shops. The all-night diner. The Tibetan guys at the greenmarket, who know I like to grab a chocolate croissant on my way to work. A friend of mine who lives a half mile away has basically the same amenities—he just patronizes the small businesses in his little town.

When I lost my job at the end of 2008, I started spending more time in my neighborhood—but spending less money there. Since I don’t have to dress up for work, I have little that needs dry cleaning. My heels don’t get worn down, and when you’re not buying new clothes there’s no need to visit the tailor. Fresh flowers are an indulgence. I reluctantly began to do my own laundry.

I felt poorer, but not in the way I had expected.

It’s often said that small businesses form the backbone of the American economy. According to the Small Business Administration, companies with under 100 workers represent more than 99 percent of all employer firms. They employ half the people in the private sector. But the SBA says nothing about the way they help bind communities together.

Conducting business in my neighborhood isn’t just about consuming or hating to do the wash. Being part of a local economy is also being part of a community. The people whose products and services I buy are a part of my life, and interacting with them is (usually) a pleasure. If my personal errands had a soundtrack, it would include “People in Your Neighborhood” and the theme song from Cheers.

I miss them. Even the guy at the fruit stand who always scowls. I’m thinking they miss me too—and not just my money.

--Posted by Sara Clemence, RecessionWire.com

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