Arlington, VA

The red letters spelling “We Are Open” on a banner above Eagle Cleaners is easily visible to cars on nearby Williamsburg Blvd.

At the storefront, a door stopper holds the front entrance open throughout the day. Owner Mat Srebrow’s pet parrot, Emma, sits in her perch next to the window, ready to be held by children who enter the store.

These welcome signs to customers come as Eagle Cleaners, which along with other local dry cleaners are trying to recover from a sharp decrease in business induced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Srebrow, whose father opened the store at its 6402 Williamsburg Blvd location in 1996, said he started seeing revenue slip in March and it is yet to stop falling.

The suits, shirts, pants, dresses and sweaters that used to come in a steady flow disappeared as office work turned virtual and formal events were cancelled.

According to Srebrow, business has been down as much as 85% and could continue falling in the current month.

“August is the worst month for dry cleaning year after year, so we’re probably in the worst of it now,” Srebrow said.

When Srebrow took over the store last year, after his father died, he inherited a strong base of regular customers. Some have been going to Eagle Cleaners since it first opened.

Prior to the pandemic, the store employed eight full-time workers, and was open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays.

All employees now work part-time with only one to three coming in per day. Store hours have been reduced to 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

“I feel terrible for the employees,” Srebrow said. “They can’t get work. I have to go home with that every night. I’m extremely tired by the time I get home.”

Eagle Cleaners rents their building, and Srebrow said he’s grateful that the landlord has been working with them on rent, which has helped. The cleaner also received a loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program that helped with payroll as well as rent and utility payments.

As summer days start to wane and fall approaches, full of uncertainty, Srebrow dreams of a future when things go back to normal — when business returns “to what it was pre-pandemic, with all eight employees working… [and] we were busy Monday through Saturday, seven to seven.”

Staff photo by Joseph Ramos

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