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It all comes out in the wash in dry cleaning business
Wed, Oct 12, 2005, 01:005 / Irish Times

TradeNames: A Dublin dry cleaning business has adapted to meet the demands of the time and carve a niche for itself, writes Rose Doyle

In Dublin, in 1941 when Bridget Hodkinson set up LYK-NU Cleaners on St Stephen's Green, the world of clothes and how people treated them said more about the times that were in it than most other services.

The disposable world as we know it, being but a fantasy in an economist's eye, good suits, coats and special occasion clothes were maintained like new with regular dry cleaning. When a country wedding, or even an expected funeral, was in the offing clothes were parcelled and sent to LYK-NU, where they were cleaned and posted back next day.

Alterations and repairs were an equally important part of the business, notably nylon stockings which were in short supply and expertly and "invisibly" mended in LYK-NU and other cleaners.

Eoin Hodkinson was born to it all and remembers well.

His mother, Bridget, was the instigator and founder of LYK-NU but was joined in the business by his father, Fred Hodkinson, 14 years later. He had worked in Burtons in North Earl Street, knew a thing or two about clothes; they were the perfect combination.

McConnells Advertising Agency came up with the name LYK-NU. "I don't know where my parents got the money, or how they thought of going to McConnells," Eoin Hodkinson says, "but they did and the name happened. During the 1940s and 1950s there were six dry cleaners, including ourselves, on our stretch of the Green, where the shopping centre is now. We did a lot of hat cleaning; men all wore hats then.

"With no machinery in the beginning we used send out the cleaning. Repairs and alternations were huge business; people used and reused clothes. In the 1960s, when the drain-pipe came in, we used taper trouser legs for 12/6. When flares came in in the 1970s we used add pieces to trouser ends.

"There was always some excitement. We did all the dry cleaning for The Big Max film and various fellas, like Peter O'Toole and Peter Sellers, used come in when they were staying in good hotels, like the Russell and Royal Hibernian."

Then, in 1969, Ken Conlan came along. He was 15 and studying in Denmark Street Tech when he started working part-time for LYK-Nu. Studies went by the board and he stayed on.

"Stephen's Green was a great place then," he's more nostalgic than any 50-year-old has a right to be. "We were at 133 Stephen's Green West, close to May's music store where Luke Kelly used buy sheet music. I loved Stephen's Green, used take my lunch walking in the park. There were great characters about the place then. The actors from the Gaiety used walk along too, or you'd see them in Synnotts.

"RDS events, like the spring and horse shows, brought big business; you'd think the farming community saved their clothes to be dry cleaned in Dublin! The bell boys used come with cleaning from the Russell and Hibernian and the United Services Club and RAA and those places, and I'd bring it back. I was out and about, a part of the place and I loved it."

In 1972, when it came time to build the Stephen's Green shopping centre, LYK-NU moved to Camden Street. "It was totally different there," Ken says, sounding as if the shock of it all happened yesterday. Within two years the business had moved to Donnybrook, to 4 The Mall, where it is today.

In between times there was another LYK-NU in Glenageary, which closed, and now there's a second LYK-NU in Booterstown. Opened six years ago and it's run by Eoin Hodkinson and his son Colm. The venerable Donnybrook shop is owned and run these days by Ken Conlan. Between the two there is the LYK-NU story.

Ken Conlan arrived from Camden Street to work in the Donnybrook LYK-NU in 1974. The founder/owners retired about then and Eoin Hodkinson took over. Ken was a short while in Donnybrook when the manager left, suddenly, "and I was thrown in at the deep end to manage it myself. I wasn't even 20 but I'd a good idea what was going on in the business. I took it from there and we're still here. I was manager up until December 2000 when I bought it from Eoin.He'd decided in 1999 to semi-retire and when he made me an offer it seemed like a good idea!"

The Donnybrook LYK-NU Cleaners is a busy place, rails of wedding and evening wear awaiting collection, others carrying more everyday clothes. "We specialise in designer wear, in silk, beading, etc. We do all the big labels. Suede and leather I send out to a guy I trust and we've an alteration and repair service still."

Many of the area's notable workers and citizens have their clothes cleaned in LYK-NU; Dermot Desmond does, and some Smurfits. Marian Finucane has, and so has Pat Kenny and Ronan Collins of RTÉ.

"Westlife made an emergency call once on a Saturday morning, before they were Westlife as we know them, to have their clothes cleaned in a hurry for that night's Late Late Show. I've met one or two of them since and they remember. They're nice lads."

Then there was the morning a bride in white appeared in the shop, en route to Donnybrook church, red nail varnish staining the front of her dress.

"The car backed up to the door, we put a towel down the front of her dress, did a good job of cleaning, zipped her up, lifted the train, got her into the car and off she went to the church."

He likes being in Donnybrook, says he knows most of the customers and likes it that way.

A fun, very 1940s picture on a wall shows an outraged, 1940s-style damsel with her dress food-splattered, a craven waiter at her feet.It used hang on the wall in Stephen's Green.

Dry cleaning enjoyed a boom 30 or so years ago, Ken says. Since then, with the advent of user-friendly domestic washing machines, washable and cheaper mass produced clothing and liquid and colour safe soaps, it's become less of an imperative, more of a special needs service, albeit a busy and much valued one.

"I'm in the business 35 years now," Ken says, "and I'm still learning. It seemed a lot easier in the 1970s. Then, for the most part, it was wools, tweeds and showerproofs. Good solid clothes, made to last. Today," and he laughs, "what used be lining is used as outer clothing.

The smoking ban changed things too - it's been good for health but not so good for our business! People hated the smell of smoke on clothes and would always bring them in to be cleaned."

An then there are the things found in pockets.

"Absolutely everything. Money, jewellery, other stuff you quickly tear up. Indiscreet things you'd get rid of to save the customer embarrassment." He won't be drawn.

EU directives and the Environmental Protection Agency are about to have an impact on the dry cleaning business.

"Perchloroethylene is the solvent which has been used for cleaning going back 30 or more years. Machines used be open circuit and use a lot of perc. Today they're closed circuit and use 30 per cent less. It's ironic that the EPA is coming in now that the industry is policing itself!"

But the new regulations will affect things.

"A lot of small, older dry cleaners, who're close to retiring age, will close rather than replace machinery. The new people coming into the country will set up family cleaning businesses. Things will change, then settle. Local cleaners will be more the thing."

He's going that way himself. He lives in Ratoath, Co Meath and has started a launderette with dry cleaning service there. "I bring the dry cleaning to Donnybrook; we're making a lot of changes and renovations to the business here, too."

He's got four sons but doesn't anticipate them coming into the business. It's hard work, the dry cleaning business.

 


Services

Shirts

Shirt Service

Wedding Dresses

Wedding Dresses

Suede & leather

Suede & leather

Laundry & Ironing Service

Laundry & Ironing Service

Alterations & repairs

Alterations & repairs

Corporate Accounts

Corporate Accounts

 

Testimonials

“Super Service for leather jacket cleaning! I literally rang every where trying to look for someone that would clean and service my leather jacket...
The staff were really friendly and said they wouldn't return it until they were satisfied with the condition of it, and I was really impressed!”

John B | Dublin 4

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