After decades of laundering and dry cleaning clothing for year-round and seasonal residents alike, East Hampton Cleaners on Newtown Lane, near the train station, will be closing its doors for the last time at the end of this month.
Grace Labarbera and Eddie Downes are the last two employees at the store, which is not accepting any more clothing to be cleaned. Two other employees were let go, without notice, after the decision to close was made by the current owner of the business, Mattituck Laundry, which purchased it several years ago. Labarbera and Downes are now on a mission: to reunite customers with their clothing before the end of the month.
It is not an easy mission. Labarbera has been going through tickets, calling all those for whom she has a current phone number. Labarbera said Saturday that customers have displayed a range of emotions when they learn the store is closing. “They are so upset. Some of them even get angry, because, where do they go? There is another dry cleaners, on North Main Street, but they don’t do what we do.” She was referring to the laundry-side of the business. “We launder things, the shirts and the sheets, and they don’t do that.”
Labarbera and Downes are not sure why the store is closing. They believe that the owner of the building wants the business out in order to sell the property.
The building has an unusual history: It was once a restaurant, Downes said.
Labarbera, who has worked at East Hampton Cleaners for six years, said she is not sure what she is going to do when the store closes, an uncertainty echoed by Downes, who has been there for about 30 years. For him, it is a major change.
Downes went to work there as a presser at the behest of the former owner, Al Phillips. Both men were from Sag Harbor. Phillips’s father had purchased the business. Downes went to Manhattan with his friend to take classes for the dry cleaning business. “We were in spotting school for 10 weeks, two nights a week.” The classes were at the National Dry Cleaners Association’s Manhattan headquarters. Downes is licensed to either own, manage, or operate a dry cleaners. The license is needed because of the chemicals involved.
Clothing not picked up by the end of December will be donated to charity. One problem Labarbera has been dealing with is the practice of some summer visitors to East Hampton of leaving clothing at the cleaners, then forgetting about it until the following year. That won’t be possible in the summer of 2019.
The two have been offered a job in Mattituck Laundry’s Riverhead cleaners. They are both uncertain of their next move, after December 31. “Always keep your hope alive, and your options open,” Downes said.