Spicer’s has long history

Published 1:30 am Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thank you for the nice picture of Kathy McVay and an employee of Spicer’s Cleaners inspecting band uniforms from Straughn High School (that printed in The Star-News) several weeks ago.

I have a special interest in Spicer’s Cleaners, as my sister and I still own that building from which our parents, Ernest and Zelma Earl Spicer, conducted their dry-cleaning business for many years. Lots of customers may not remember that Spicer’s Cleaners originated on South Cotton Street, next door to what is now Wiggins Barber Shop. Earnest and Zelma Earl purchased an existing dry-cleaning plant there in about 1945. On the north side of the South Cotton business, in those days, was Gilmer’s Barber Shop, owned and operated by Purvis Gilmer. On the south side was The Taylor Shop, purveyor of men’s fine clothing. Within just a few years of Dad purchasing the business, there was a major fire that started in the boiler area at the back of the building. Dad was devastated, but losses were covered by insurance, customer’s clothing was replaced and reconstruction took place.

From the time I was about 13, I was expected to work in the customer area of the cleaners every Saturday, taking in dirty clothes and releasing clean ones to customers. There were no computerized cash registers, so I learned at an early age to count change back to a customer. In those days, fancy buttons with stones in them might be damaged in the cleaning process, so one of my duties was to clip off the buttons before the garment was released for cleaning and then sewing them back on when the garment had been pressed.

The operation was truly a family affair, as my mom was always on duty with Dad. There were two sewing machines for performing alterations and hemming men’s trousers. Mrs. Miller operated one of those machines and our mom, the other. Pants were sold at The Taylor Shop next door with unfinished bottoms and the customer would be sent over to the cleaners to have a proper length pinned up and a cuff created. There was also the service performed for men, whereby they could step into the “barrel” (the men’s restroom), hand their pants out the door and a presser would put a firmly pronounced crease in them. The cost to clean and press a pair of trousers was an amazing 35-cents in those days.

My sister and I recall hearing Mom relate stories about soldiers coming over from Ft. Rucker during the Korean War Conflict, of counters piled high with woolen uniforms. Mom had a special place in her heart for those young men, as her brother was actually serving in Korea at the time.

The curb/sidewalk in the at area of South Cotton Street was positioned about 24-inches above street level. Parking spaces were limited, so customers wishing to drop clothes off would simply pull up behind the parked cars and blow their horn. Mom, Dad or I would run out, jump off that cub and take the customer’s clothes through the car widow. Thirty years later, Mom would have both hips and a knee replaced by Dr. James Andrews. Mom said jumping off those curbs in early years – wearing high heels no less – wore out her joints. The choice of Dr. Andrews to do the surgeries was because Mom said that if Dr. Andrews could “fix” Bo Jackson well enough to get back on the athletic field, then he was the one for her.

In the early 1960s, with the onslaught of fast food and drive through windows, Mom convinced Dad that customers wanted speedy service, and they should look for a property that would provide easy access and allow customers to leave clothes without leaving their vehicle. The location on Church Street seemed like an obvious choice.

And even though the dry cleaning operation has had two other owners since then, it has continued to be operated as Spicer’s Cleaners for more than 65 years. Our dad would be amazed that Spicer’s Cleaners is still taking good care of the area high school band uniforms after all these years.

Ernestine Spicer Crosby