Salem’s only dry cleaner set to close after decades of operating

A photo of Gary and Beulah Chilton commemorating their purchase of their business in May of 1995 appeared in The Salem News. The original caption read, “NEW OWNERS – Gary and Beulah Chilton purchased Personal Touch Cleaners, corner of Iron and Center streets, Salem, May 6. Different cleaning equipment has been installed and drapery cleaning is offered.”

[ – 2023.04.25] Salem’s only dry cleaner, Personal Touch, on the corner of Iron St. and Center St., is set to close April 28 following the death of owner and operator Gary Chilton. He ran the business for nearly 28 years.

Chilton’s wife Beulah said she and Gary bought the business in 1995.

“(Gary) worked at Floyd Charcoal,” she said. “We saw it as a chance to get him out of the charcoal plant and have a business of our own to run. That was the main reason. It was for sale, and we just decided that he wanted to learn. He was good at it. He did it for 28 years, until he passed away in February.”

Beulah shared a photograph of her and her husband on the day they opened that was featured in The Salem News at the time.

“That’s what we looked like then, that’s when we opened it. Actually, we opened it May 6, but we got the keys on May 5,” said Beulah. “We look a little different now than we did. We’ve held the corner down for 28 years.”

“We did the long-term care (for Salem Memorial Hospital). We did laundry for the school, mop heads and stuff like that. Then we just serviced the community. We have a lot of weekly customers that come in and get shirts pressed every week,” said Beulah. “We did a lot of dry cleaning, we did a lot of shirt laundry. . . gentlemen would bring their shirts in. Farmers – cowboys like those stiff jeans and those stiff shirts. We just have normal people, a lot of guys that work at the bank bring their stuff in and have it done.”

Beulah said she is unable to keep the business running by herself following the passing of her husband.

“I hate it, but I couldn’t do it by myself,” she said. “Dry cleaning is a hard business. It’s hot, and it’s work. People just don’t realize; Lifting all those clothes, and moving it around, it’s work.”

According to Beulah, Gary had a knack for keeping the old machinery in the business running well. She said anyone trying to keep the business going would need a new boiler, at least.

“Our equipment was old, but my husband knew how to work on it and keep it going. To get service for equipment, you have to get it from the city and it’s expensive,” said Beulah. “Our boiler is old, and we tried during the pandemic for two years to get a boiler, and you know during the pandemic everything was crazy.”

Beulah sold the building, but she says the new owner has no intention of continuing to operate the business as a dry cleaner.

Beulah sold the building, but she says the new owner has no intention of continuing to operate the business as a dry cleaner.

“We had been trying to sell the business for a couple of years. We didn’t go through real estate or anything, just by word of mouth we’ve been trying to sell it. No bites, but you know everything was so messed up when COVID hit. The world was crazy; it still is,” she said. “I couldn’t afford to just close the doors and let it sit here until somebody (who wanted to continue dry cleaning) decided to buy it, so when I got an offer that was acceptable, I took it.

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