Taken to the cleaners: Quebec's dry cleaners suffering from reduced business during pandemic
MONTREAL -- Lorena Carcamo works at Nettoyeur Ecologique Royal, a dry cleaner that’s been on Sherbrooke St. in Notre-Dame-de-Grace for at least 30 years. A mother of three and an immigrant from El Salvador, she sends money regularly to her aged mother in the country’s capital city of San Salvador.
Over the past year, that money’s been hard to come by.
“It’s tough,” she said in Spanish. “There’s not a lot of work.”
Of all the industries hit by the pandemic, dry cleaning services have been especially hard done by during the past year. Deemed an essential service due to its role in disinfecting clothing worn by many front line workers, it’s an industry that is also suffering the effects of stay-at-home work and cancelled weddings.
“I’ve had weeks that aren’t even equal to a normal Saturday,” said the dry cleaner’s owner, Michael Kutchuk.
The economics of a pandemic-era dry cleaner are dire. According to the Canadian Fabricare Association, a nationwide trade group representing dry cleaners, business during the pandemic is down by at least 70 per cent. At least 30 per cent of all dry cleaning businesses have permanently closed, said Sid Chelsky, the organization’s executive director.
Kutchuk says in his case, business has been down a comparable amount — between 68 and 72 per cent.
Many people no longer need pressed pants if they’re working virtually. And while that cuts into a cleaner’s bottom line substantially, what is truly causing the industry to lose its shirt is the lack of formal events. A dry cleaner can make exponentially more cleaning a single wedding dress than it would cleaning slacks, Kutchuk said.
Kutchuk noted that the federal rent subsidy has helped enormously to keep his lights on. But for dry cleaning employees like Carcamo, it’s been a tough period: she normally works up to seven days a week. The past year it’s been more like two days a week.
“My mother is a senior citizen who doesn’t work,” she said. “And I can’t provide for all her needs now.”