Peter Cleaners Avoids 'Hang Ups' In Tough Economic Times
Business may be slower than it once was, but someone always needs something dry cleaned.
After spending 32 years in Greece, Kyriano (Anna) and Peter Kintos moved to the United States in 1970. The Kintos got married in Bergenfield in 1973.
"Mrs. K," as she is known, said her whole family lives in Greece, and that she hasn’t been there in two years. Since she lost her husband in 2002 and younger brother, she is not happy in Greece.
Mrs. K speaks emphatically about how much she loves Fort Lee.
It was in Fort Lee that the Kintos met and ran their first dry cleaning business from 1970 to 1978 in Hasbrouck Heights, but the rent was very high there.
Mrs. K. opened Peter Cleaners in Fort Lee at 1633 Palisade Ave. in 1978 and Pete continued working in Hasbrouck Heights until around 1980.
At the time, neither of the Kintos were able to read or write English but could speak it.
When they started Peter Cleaners, Kintos was the tailor and Mrs. K. the seamstress.
“All my customers are nice people - I say - give respect, get respect," she said. "Honesty is the best policy.”
Mrs. K. now runs the business with her son Antonio (Tony); they are the only employees. They reside in a two-family house, purchased in 1978, right behind the business, making access and day-to-day operations easier.
When Tony and his brother were in Fort Lee Middle School and Fort Lee High School, they helped out in the store. Tony feels like he grew up in the store and also worked there while attending college. He started full-time work at the cleaners in 1998.
Tony finished three years of college, majoring in chemistry, and talked about how beneficial chemistry is to the dry-cleaning business. He learned the business end of things from his parents.
All three sons, Anthony, Nicholas and Kostantine, attended school in Fort Lee. Mrs. K said she felt like she knew just about everyone in the borough, but that hings have changed.
Being together all day all day for a mother and son has its ups and downs. They agree on most things, but when they do disagree, they compromise.
When the economy was better, there were more employees. Cutting back was necessary.
"My son and I handle everything," said Mrs. K.
Tony is the tailor. They have two sewing machines, one regular machine and the other a blind stitch machine. Tony finds said the two machines are ample to keep up with the amount of work he has to do.
Making money and retaining customers is what matters to Mrs. K. She mentioned how when in Greece her family had a bakery and grocery store, where she worked the register.
The economy has taken its toll on the business.
"A lot of people lost jobs," Mrs. K. said. "Stories are told every day of losses. They bring less clothes. There is not as much work to be done; it’s not so busy now."
She also said more customers are coming, but there's still less work to be done, with people cutting back. But she looks on the bright side.
“People need to clean clothes," she said. "There will always be a demand for our store. We’re in a service business so we’re needed.”
The family bought new machinery three years ago for $60,000. Dry-cleaning equipment needs to be upgraded.
“The dry-cleaning machines make for a better quality job," Mrs. K said. "The new dry-cleaning machine, now, it’s more energy efficient and is better. Health is number one.”
Air conditioning for the store is a moot point with all the heat, humidity and steam generated by the machines.
“We can’t have air conditioning," Tony said. "The cost would be too high as it would be too tough to cool all that heat and humidity.”
In addition to rent, keeping a stock of hangers and plastic covers for the clothes is a major expense so they kindly request customers return hangers if possible.
Other expenses include chemicals needed for stain removal, tissue paper for packaging and custom printing on invoices. Different threads and needles are also needed for tailoring jobs and have to be replaced periodically.
"It’s a tricky balance," Tony said. "Keeping dry-cleaning in tune with supplies is difficult. We can’t always raise prices to match what things cost. We try to offer the best service possible and stay ahead."
As far as competition is concerned, Tony feels that Fort Lee is so heavily populated that there are enough people and therefore enough business to go around.
The slow season comes in July when people are on vacation. February is also slow when school is out and people go away.
“Those are the toughest months,” Tony said.
One customer, Mrs. Halle, said, “I’ve been a customer for the past four years, since I’m in Fort Lee. I’ve been happy.”
She smiled and asked Mrs. K, “Can you take out this stain?”
Another customer, Mr. Barkachy, said, “This place is really good. I’ve been coming here for a few years. The hospitality is excellent. The way they receive and respect you is appreciated.”
Some of Peter Cleaners' better-known customers in recent years have included Whitney Houston, Dr. Ruth, Patrick Ewing, who calls Mrs. K. "Mama," and former New York Yankee Mike Stanley.
Peter Cleaners provides custom tailoring and shirt laundering.