Shining a Spotlight on Wantagh Businesses: Jim Dandy Cleaners

Jennifer Rosen, Reporter

Before COVID-19, customers walking into Jim Dandy Cleaners on 1272 Wantagh Avenue would hear the perpetual sound of machines humming, see racks lined with clothes, and look over to the left side of the store to see tailors at their stations carefully focused on altering clothes. These are the sights and sounds that greeted customers when they went to Jim Dandy Cleaners to drop off clothes. Before the pandemic, thousands of workers across Long Island would take the LIRR to Manhattan to get to work and therefore needed their clothes dry cleaned on a regular basis. In March 2020, everything changed when the COVID-19 pandemic forced workers to do their jobs from home, and the demand for dry cleaning services decreased. 

About Jim Dandy Cleaners:

Jim Dandy Cleaners has been a part of the Wantagh community since 1979 when the owner, Florestano Girardi, opened the store. Jim Dandy provides dry cleaning, wash and fold, and tailoring services. The business was named after racehorse Jim Dandy whom the original owner’s father liked to bet on.

Before the Pandemic:

Before the pandemic, Jim Dandy Cleaners had a staff of over 30 people. According to Theresa Kirk, the bookkeeper of Jim Dandy Cleaners since 2009, “In a typical pre-Covid time, we would open at 7am with all the machines running. Any clothes that were taken the day before would be dry cleaned or washed in the morning so they would be ready for a 5pm pick up, and we used to have same day pick up. The months of January, February, and March were typically very slow, which is consistent with any retail business. Business would start to pick up a few weeks before Easter. Tailoring would get extremely busy from April through June with dresses and suits needing to be altered. We were also typically busy during the summer. We would often see business from white-collar workers who regularly traveled into the city.” 

During the Pandemic:

Once the pandemic hit, Jim Dandy Cleaners put in place measures that would adhere to CDC guidelines including mask wearing for all employees, putting up plexiglass in the front of the registers and the in-take computers, and limiting the number of people in the lobby. Although Jim Dandy Cleaners was deemed an essential business and stayed open from March-June 2020, the business took a major hit with the cancellation of parties, proms, holidays, and other social events, along with people working from home. Kirk said, “Once Manhattan shut down, that is when our business completely tanked. We were only open Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday through the month of May and June, but in the middle of June, we started opening every day from 9 am to 3 pm mainly because there was no business coming in at that point. We had to cut back hours and on payroll, and unfortunately, a few people were let go because there was no work for them.”

The World Opening Up Again:

Despite Governor Andrew Cuomo’s phased plan to reopen businesses in May- June, an August 2020 survey by the Partnership for New York City showed that only 8% of employees had returned to workplaces in Manhattan. With many companies having their employees work from home, there has been a decrease in demand for dry cleaning. Kirk said, “Right now Jim Dandy has about twelve employees, which is down from thirty-six employees before COVID. Right now, we have two tailors, we used to have four. We only have one manager; we used to have two managers. One person works in the back of the house spotting. We have two pressers. Two shirt girls who only do the shirts, and the remainder work up front.”

With the demand for dry cleaning services dropping so drastically, the need to run machines has also declined. Kirk said, “We do not want to run the machines every day. We only run the machines three days a week whereas we used to run them six days a week. As of now, we do not do same day service and will only run the machines more if there is a real emergency. Business is down about 75% from last year, actually in almost two years. We are open more hours to accommodate more people with their working hours, but hopefully Manhattan will open up so we can get some of our business back at this point.” When asked if things have started to improve, Kirk replied: “We’re still waiting for that.”