NEW ALBANY — A small family business is shutting its doors after 96 years in downtown New Albany.
Star Cleaners, a dry cleaning business that opened in 1925, is closing its New Albany storefront and merging the business with Old Capital Cleaners in Corydon.
Four generations have operated the dry cleaner over the decades. It is owned by Terri Ehalt-Summers, and her daughter, Allison Reas, also works at the business. The shop is at 26 E. 3rd Street between the flood wall and Town Clock Church.
“If you would be here for a day, you would see that most all the customers that come in the door are friends, and they all stand here at the counter and talk, and that really is going to be the hardest part — just not being able to see their faces,” Reas said.
The family made the decision to close because of a decrease of in-store customers and the impact of the pandemic.
As they merge with Old Capital Cleaners, they will offer contactless pickup and delivery services. The store will remain open for pickup-only for the next two weeks, and they will present a going-out-of-business sale Saturday, March 13, from noon to 4 p.m.
Bennie Carter, owner of Primo’s Detail Plus across the street from Star Cleaners, is taking over ownership of the property. He plans to add four “upscale,” loft-style apartments to the historic building, which he hopes to complete by the end of the year.
The structure was built around the 1860s, and before Star Cleaners moved in, it was home to a dye factory, then a carriage factory.
The dry cleaner was formed in 1925 by a cousin of the family. Elmer Ehalt started working there in 1926 and eventually bought the business.
He was the first generation of Ehalts to run the business, and he operated the dry cleaner with a couple of business partners until he became the sole owner in the early 1950s.
Reas said Star Cleaners was “ahead of the times” by offering a delivery service when it was founded in the 1920s.
Roger Ehalt took over the business from his father starting in 1977, and he retired in 2001. Ehalt-Summers, his daughter, is the owner now.
Ehalt said the business has been a central part of his life.
“It’s all I’ve known all my life,” he said. “It will be sad to let it go, but times change, and things happen, and it’s time to move on.”
Reas grew up here, and she has helped out at the dry cleaner since she was a kid.
As for Ehalt-Summers, she has never worked for anyone else, and she started working for Star Cleaners at age 15.
“Until they started school, I raised my kids at Star Cleaners,” Ehalt-Summers said.
In the past, Star Cleaners has cleaned the clothing of several famous musicians who were performing in the Louisville area, including Ray Charles and Willie Nelson, Ehalt said.
At one point, the business had two other locations, including shops in Corydon and on Charlestown Road.
The family is having a tough time closing the doors of Star Cleaners, but the business “just isn’t there anymore,” Reas said.
She said that over the past three decades, they have seen a decline in the need for dry cleaning, since clothes these days are so often “wash and wear.”
“The quality is just not the same as it once was,” Reas said.
During the pandemic, many people are working from home, and they are not having their clothes dry cleaned like they were before, she said.
Dry cleaning has become more of a “perk” than a necessity,” she said.
“This is something that people — if they’re on a budget and money’s tight — it’s one of the first things to go,” Reas said.
Ehalt-Summers said one of their regular customers cried after learning about Star Cleaner closing.
“She stood here and cried, and she said, ‘I’m going to really miss coming in here.’”
Barbara Martin has worked for 55 years at Star Cleaners since she was 15 years old, and she has continued at the business even past retirement.
“This is not a job for me, because I didn’t work for people — I worked for friends,” she said. “We’re not family, but we were family. So it is hard to leave.”
For the next two weeks, pick-up will be available at Star Cleaners from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays and Fridays and 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.