By Alice E. Gerard
For 34 years, Russ Petrozzi, owner of Capitol Cleaners at the Grand Island Plaza, and Gary Middione, owner of X Press Cleaners at Town Hall Square, were in competition with each other.
In the past few weeks, both Petrozzi and Middione made the decision to merge the dry cleaning businesses and end the competition.
“We’ve competed against each other for a long time,” Petrozzi said. “But what’s happened is, with the (increase in) minimum wage, which has driven labor costs out of range, also the cost of supplies and production, it made more sense to share a location and work together and save the labor costs in order to prevent price fights. So, what we’ve done is to keep the price under control by reducing costs.”
The cleaners at Grand Island Plaza was closed, and the laundromat at that location, which was operated by Laundry Lounge, is closed. Laundry Lounge, however, is still open and is “accepting wash and fold and welcoming all of their customers at their Niagara Falls location,” at 9545 Niagara Falls Blvd. The store located in Town Hall Square, next to Subway, is open and is now called X Press-Capitol Cleaners.
Both Middione and Petrozzi said that the merger will benefit them and their customers.
“I think that the most positive thing is cost control. Also, it solves the labor shortage problem because we merged the labor market. We’re not in need of as many hours as we used to be,” Middione said.
Petrozzi said, “Oh, I think it (the merger) is very positive. I think we’re at a good spot. We work together well. I think that it’s good for the public. They’ll get the same service, if not better, and it will allow costs to be controlled. I think that’s the biggest benefit to the customer.”
He added, “Same service, same quality, same people. Everything is pretty much the same. For my customers, it’s just down the street, and (for) Gary’s customers, everything is the same.”
Combining the business benefits the customers, Petrozzi said. He explained that, between the two of them, they can be involved in every aspect of the dry-cleaning process. “We do it ourselves. That’s where we control the quality. In other words, if there’s a problem, it’s our problem. We don’t blame it on anyone else. We control our own destiny. We do our own screening. We do our own pressing. So, that makes it a little different than a lot of places. We work together all the way through it, and this is a natural merger to merge these two stores.”
Middione and Petrozzi’s lives in the world of dry cleaning, which intersected here on Grand Island, both began when they were children. Both had families who owned dry cleaning businesses, and the two began working in their family shops as young boys.
Petrozzi said that his family had been in the dry cleaning business for 75 years and that, when he was 5 years old, he was given his first task in the shop, which was to sweep floors.
“I’ve been here ever since,” said Petrozzi, who also has an accounting background.
Middione said, “In my case, it was my father’s brother and brother-in-law who were in the business. When I got out of school, I was like 10 years old. I didn’t go home. I would go to the plant. When we first started, they had me sweeping, doing this, doing that. You’re sweeping, you’re cleaning. You come in on Saturdays. They teach you how to sort the clothes. They teach you how to run the machines. And then, you just start learning. You learn how to press. You learn how to spot. There’s a lot that goes with it, and that’s kind of how I got started.”
Despite growing up in the dry cleaning business, Middione sought out a different career for himself.
“I was working for Apple as a programmer many, many years ago, and my uncle wanted to get out of it,” he said. “So, he asked, ‘Do you think you could help me out?’ I said, ‘I really don’t want to,’ even though I knew the business really well. I said, ‘I like computers better.’ ‘Just help me out for a few weeks!’ Here it is 50 years later.”
Both Petrozzi and Middione agreed that, over the years, the dry cleaning business has experienced a great deal of change.
“My family was in the dry cleaning business for just as long as Russ’ father was,” Middione said. “I got into the cleaning business when I was in my early 20s. I had a store, Hyde Park Cleaners on Delaware Avenue in the City of Buffalo, for probably 45 years. Being in the business, it has changed and has become so different over the years. A lot of the cleaners over the years have closed because of a lack of business. A lot of the people who buy these dry cleaners don’t have the experience. They think that they can just come in, put clothes in a machine, and just run it. That’s not what happens. Fabrics are different from what they were years ago when we all first started.”
Petrozzi said, “This is very labor intensive, but you need a lot of knowledge to do what we do. You’ve got to have a lot of experience because, as Gary said, fabrics have changed. Procedures have changed. Solvents have changed. Everything has changed.”
Many dry cleaning businesses have closed, they explained.
“Here in the Falls, we are the only ones. Actually, in Niagara County, there are only two plants. Capitol is in Niagara Falls, but, in Niagara County, there are only two dry cleaning plants remaining. I have three stores and share one,” Petrozzi said.
“Between us, we have five locations. We share the Grand Island location, and we work together on production,” he added.
Middione said he also owns Dial Cleaners and Shirt Laundry in Buffalo.