MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Most people dread turning “the big 4-0,” but for Richard Rubin, president of Gleason Cleaners, turning 40 has never looked better.
Oct. 1 marked the 40th anniversary of Rubin’s ownership of the landmark Maplewood business.
“I’ve been in business for 40 years, you have to consider that success,” Rubin said.
To celebrate and to thank his customers, each Wednesday in October every customer received a prepaid 20 percent discount just for walking into the store. This was the first time Rubin did a storewide discount and it was so well-received he may extend it into future months.
Though the signs displayed outside the store boast of 40 years, the 7 West Parker Avenue business dates back to 1926 when it was Gleason Laundromat – a family laundry specializing in items such as sheets, pillowcases and towels. The business at that time was owned by the Winters and Gleason families.
Rubin and his father purchased Gleason’s in 1971, shortly after Rubin graduated from college, and they added the dry cleaning service for which they are now known.
The laundry business is in Rubin’s blood, as his grandfather and dad were both in the laundry business. Rubin worked in his father’s laundry and dry cleaning business in Irvington throughout high school and now his son-in-law is involved in the business as well.
“One time it was a very good business, but now it’s tougher because of the economy,” Rubin said “We haven’t lost customers, but people have cut back on what they are cleaning.” He said people who have been laid off have no need to have their professional garments cleaned as often, and with many people now working from home, they don’t dress up as much.
Rubin said he faces a lot of competition, and a lot has changed over the past 40 years. Garments in the 1970s were mostly made of polyester, which is machine-washable. Now garments are mostly cotton and need to be cleaned by a professional.
There has also been the addition of partially organic cleaning, which is deemed safer as it uses less harmful chemicals. The old method of dry cleaning was done either with petroleum-based solvents or perchloroethylene (“perc”). One constant is that the process is still hands-on with little to no automation.
At Gleason’s they care about their customers’ garments. Rubin said they don’t “bang them out” by tossing them in a machine, but instead take the time to “finish” them properly. “We don’t care if it’s a pair of khakis or a $1,000 dress, we work hard at every piece that comes in,” Rubin said.
Judy Silberner drives from Livingston to Maplewood to have her important garments cleaned at Gleason.
“I know that they know what they are doing, I trust them,” Silberner said. The employee attending to her recognized her name because her mother was a longtime customer dating back more than 35 years.
“My mother used Gleason and now I use them,” Silberner said.
“Gleason is very much community-minded,” Rubin said. The cleaners sometimes offer its services at no charge to local organizations, churches and temples when they do service projects. At a recent Housing the Homeless project, for instance, Gleason assisted by cleaning the blankets and sleeping bags used.
In October, all the plastics and hangars at Gleason were pink in support of breast cancer awareness, and a portion of the store’s income was donated to breast cancer research.
“Having three daughters and a wife, I am conscious of that threat to women,” Rubin said, adding that some of his customers have battled breast cancer.
“We do this to support them,” he said.