According to the National Cleaners Association, the industry is in one of its worst cycles in decades with some dry cleaners sales down more than 90% in some places across the country.
In Raleigh, the impact is forcing Zoom Dry Cleaning downtown location at the intersection of Peace St. and Capital Blvd. to close. The location has been occupied by a dry-cleaner for more than 13 years.
"We are dry cleaners, we are a very close group," explained Ben Hilker of family-run Brothers Cleaners. "We talk to people throughout the country. We keep in touch. There are a lot of consulting groups that we're a part of and everybody's just trying to do the best they can. People are having to close stores, change hours, sell vans. There are a lot of businesses that are hurting."
Brothers Cleaners has been in the Hilker family for four generations and has stood the test of time even surviving the pandemic of 1918.
"My grand-daddy started it in 1916," explained Bob Hilker, Ben's father. "My dad was in it. So, we've had a long time, over 100 years. For any company in the state of North Carolina, we're one of the oldest and we made it through the 1918 pandemic and we're going to make it through this one too."
The Hilkers say they have had to make many adjustments to stay afloat in an industry hit so hard. They have had lay-offs, cut hours, and have added wash, dry, and fold services to run more efficiently. They say with so many families at home, there was an increase of rugs and drapes being cleaned which helped but the drop in business has been drastic.
"When it first started in March we were down about 85 percent," explained Bob Hilker. "Then, by the summer we were back to about 50 percent, then toward the fall 40 percent and now we are back up to about 50 percent," he added.
Industry-wide, the laundry, dry cleaning, and other personal service jobs are some of the hardest hit according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics with the unemployment rate more than doubling from December 2019 at 3.2% to 7.4% in December 2020.
With more than a century in business in Raleigh, the Hilkers remain optimistic they will weather this second pandemic in their history and continue serving the community.
"We're gonna survive it. We've done it before," Bob Hilker said.