Business

Bainbridge Cleaners hangs it up

"New fashions and downtown improvements are bringing down the curtain on Bainbridge Cleaners. After 46 years in business, the island's first dry-cleaning outfit will close at the end of the week.Changing times and changing fashions, owner Mike Okano said. I never thought it would come to this. I mean, people gotta wear clothes, right? But they don't have to wear dry-cleanable clothes.The expansion of casual Fridays into casual everydays has cut into the dry-cleaning business everywhere, Okano said. But for him, the last straw was the reconstruction of lower Madison Avenue last summer.Business dropped off 50 percent during the construction, he said. And it never came back. Once people changed habits, it's hard to get them back.The construction of sidewalks along lower Madison also hurt his business, he said.That took away my parking, Okano said. Without the sidewalks, there was enough room for people to pull up right in front of the business and be off the street. But now, people don't know where to park.Okano's father Phillip moved to Bainbridge from Seattle in 1946 and opened the business. While there was another outfit on the island that took in cleaning and sent it elsewhere, Bainbridge Cleaners was the first facility on the island to do cleaning in-house.(Phillip Okano) recognized that the island was going to grow, and that it would be a good place to do business, Mike Okano said of his father, who died in 1998.Mike started in the business 30 years ago, when he was 12. Early memories? There was the time in the '70s a guy thought this was a drive-in and crashed his car through the front wall, Okano said. I was standing behind the counter. My dad said he'd never seen me move so fast. I said, 'I've never been so scared.'When area roadwork started, Okano said, the business began losing money. and the end did not appear to be in sight.You hate to go, but you gotta do what you gotta do, he said. We've met a lot of people we're going to miss.One customer who will miss him is Daphne Mackey, a resident of the Madison Avenue Retirement Center. I'm quite blind, Mackey said. It was so nice to be able to walk across the street. This man is so friendly, and I love his dog Maui.The business will be open as usual through Friday. After that, no more cleaning will be accepted. During April, the cleaners will be open for pick-up only. And after that, I'll leave a number where they can reach me, Okano said.Neither Okano nor long-time manager Michelle Coyle have specific plans for the future. You wouldn't want to go to another cleaner after 21 years, Coyle said.Okano owns the prime real estate on which the grey wooden building sits above Eagle Harbor.I don't know what I'm going to do, he said. I may try to do something myself, or I may sell the property to someone else.One thing that won't change, though, is Okano's involvement with the Japanese-American community, and specifically with the annual mochi festival at New Year's.Mochi are sweet rice cakes, traditionally made by pounding rice with huge mallets in a large bowl for several hours and steaming it.Our family used to make mochi at the cleaners, Okano said. When the Japanese American community started to do that, my father knew how to cook it.Times change on the mochi scene too - now, there are machines that can do the work.Tradition is great, Okano said. But that pounding is hard work. For the ceremony, we make a little the old way. But the rest we do with the machine."

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