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Economy forces Bladen business to close after 67 years

ELIZABETHTOWN, NC (WWAY) — After nearly seven decades, a family-owned business in Elizabethtown is closing its doors. It’s a victim of the down economy and high gas prices.

Ted Rogers, 74, learned about steaming, pressing and folding at a young age. He was just a kid when his parents opened Ideal Cleaners in 1945.

“At the time, World War II, we couldn’t get fuel oil or coal, so we were using slab wood, feeding the boiler. That was one of my first jobs,” Rogers said.

Back then, he earned 13.5 cents an hour.

“I was a happy camper till I found that out,” Rogers laughed.

Times changed. Work got a little easier. Then Rogers bought the cleaners from his father in 1971.

The business went through a tough time in the ’70s when polyester became popular, but they pressed on. Now this latest economic downturn has taken its toll.

“Naturally, when you have a downturn like this, one of the first things you can do without is dry cleaning,” Rogers said. “If it wasn’t for bachelors and those in public jobs it would probably be worse.”

Plus, the price of fuel has gone up dramatically.

“I was paying anywhere between $400-600 a month before things started jumping, now this past month $1,500,” Rogers said.

Staying open is no longer an option.

“I can’t. Can’t make it,” Rogers said.

Rogers is ready to retire, but he gets choked up thinking of those he’s leaving behind.

“The people, my help, the employees, the customers. They… they”ve been real good,” he said.

Employees like Tomeka Chapple, who has managed the cleaners for the past five years.

“I cried. I cried. I did,” Chapple said. “We’ve become a family here. That’s why it’s kinda hard seeing the business go.

The machines at Ideal Cleaners will run for the final time April 6. The business officially closes the following day. Customers will need to have their clothes picked up by April 7.

As for rogers, he hopes to do some traveling with this wife.

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