For the first time since the pandemic started, there are plenty of clothes to wash and press at Iris Cleaners and Tailors in East Elmhurst.
Co-owner Carlos Landazabal said business finally started to improve a few weeks ago, when more New Yorkers started to return to the office.
“Lot of ties, suits, dresses everything. It’s really picked up,” said Landazabal.
Landazabal’s parents started the business more than 40 years ago after emigrating from Colombia.
During the height of the pandemic, with so many people working from home and many events canceled, there wasn’t much of a need for dry cleaning and tailoring. They closed for six months.
“We can’t pay the rent. We can’t pay the bills. We cannot. No, it was very, very, very difficult,” said Maria Landazabal.
They managed to survive by shifting to more laundry services. Some grant money also helped, but other similar businesses in Queens were not as lucky.
The Queens Chamber of Commerce says many dry cleaners and laundromats have gone out of business.
“Those poor folks lost a fortune,” said Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Grech. “In many cases, you know, they had rents to pay as well. They had out of pocket costs. Their employees were not able to collect a paycheck, and they themselves as the business owners took a huge hit to their personal bottom line.”
Grech said the chamber has seen an uptick in the dry cleaning business since New Yorkers started to return to the office.
Yet the Landazabals are not out of the woods yet.
“All the back rent that wasn’t paid back then, the landlord was nice enough to let us stay and see what would happen. Yeah, now they want their rent back,” said Carlos Landazabal.
But they’ve been able to hire back their two employees. And for the first time in over a year, they’re hopeful.