Last dry cleaner in St. Lawrence County, Potsdam business of more than 40 years, closes doors

Tonya Burke removes a dress shirt from the steam press while working at Potsdam Laundry & Dry Cleaners in 2016. Watertown Daily Times (Jason Hunter)
[ – 2022.09.08] The last dry cleaner in St. Lawrence County has closed for business. Potsdam Laundry & Dry Cleaners, 7 Beal St., shut its doors on Sept. 1 after more than 40 years of family operation. Co-owner Jeff Demo, who ran the business with his brother David, cited COVID-19 and a frustrating employee market as reasons for the shutdown.

His father bought the business in 1979, but he said there had been a laundry in that building for more than 115 years.

“We bought it from my father in 1995, and we’ve ran it since then,” Mr. Demo said. “But times are tough now. I’m 65, employees are hard to come by, and I just said, ‘To heck with it, I’ve had enough.’”

Mr. Demo didn’t want to close down, but the realities of the dry cleaning business — coupled with pandemic-related price hikes — made the decision for him.

“It’s disheartening, and it’s not the way I wanted to do it, but the last three years have been hell,” he said.

Employees, he said, expect more than before the pandemic.

“Everything has changed regarding the employee situation. Everyone thinks they’re worth twice as much as they really are,” he said. “It’s tough to get employees now — it’s hard to find them, and it’s hard to get people to come in.”

The cost of doing business has also gone up an uncomfortable amount.

“Prices have gone up 100% in the last three years just to buy soap,” Mr. Demo said.

He said fuel prices have risen 39% as well.

“It’s hard to keep up with these costs. You can’t,” he said.

The culture has changed, too.

“Dry cleaning is a dying industry,” Mr. Demo said. “In the ’90s, there were probably 5,000 dry cleaners in the state, and I bet you there’s well less than half that number now.”

The reasons for this, he said, are cultural.

“There’s a lot more wash-and-wear now. Even in professional settings, people wear blue jeans and a golf shirt. Nobody wears suits anymore.”

Also, during the pandemic, less people went out, so less dry cleaning was needed.

All these factors, plus his age, persuaded Mr. Demo that the time had come for the business to close.

“I just thought, I’m 65, and I’ve been working 65 hours a week for the last 40 years, and I’m tired,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of great friends, and that’s the hardest part about leaving.”

“It’s been a good run,” he added.

He still hopes someone will continue the dry cleaning tradition in the building, which is why he’s putting it up for sale.

“The nearest dry cleaner now is Malone, and I do hope somebody comes into the area because there’s a need for it,” he said.

In the meantime, Mr. Demo is figuring out how to occupy his newfound time.

“I’m trying to think what I’m going to do to keep myself occupied,” he said. “Maybe I’ll fix somebody’s drain or something.”

For more information, contact the business at 315-265-3760.

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