Dick’s Dry Cleaning Still Going Strong After More Than 50 Years

| December 1, 2018

SHIPPENVILLE, Pa. (EYT) – The last local bastion of a dying trade is still going strong after more than fifty years.

(Pictured: Dick’s Dry Cleaning crew members: Sherri Beichner, Tammy Miller, Kathy Siverling, Toni Adkins, and Jennifer Yockey.)

Dick’s Dry Cleaning was first opened in Shippenville by Dick and Ruby Salvo in a building along U.S. 322 across the street from the Shippenville post office in 1964.

The couple got into the dry cleaning industry working for a dry cleaning business in Clarion.

The couple’s son Dick Salvo, who is the current owner, told exploreVenango.com that by 1964, when they first opened Dick’s Dry Cleaning, there were fifteen dry cleaning businesses in the Clarion and Venango County areas, all of which were opened by individuals who started out in Clarion.

“They all worked together over in Clarion, then they all branched off and started their own which started the fifteen separate cleaners. They each went out and did their own routes and got commissions, originally, and then they all started branching out,” explained Dick.

The elder Dick Salvo and his wife Ruby first left to work at a new dry cleaning business in Emlenton before moving to Shippenville and opening their own business. They spent several years in their original location before purchasing a former hardware store just a bit to the east and across the street, a building that most recently housed Wallyboe’s Pizza and is currently awaiting demolition.

The business remained at that location until the current owner took over in 1995, purchased all new machines and moved to their current location, just off U.S. 322 at the intersection with State Route 208 East in Shippenville.

As other dry cleaning business in the region began to slowly dwindle and shut down, Dick’s Dry Cleaning has continued the tradition, and they are currently the only dry cleaning business left in the area who still process their own dry cleaning in-house.

“We stuck it out. We’ve been family run and owned since the day we opened. I was born and raised into it. I was in the back of that truck when I was in diapers with my dad running routes,” Salvo said.

“We still do everything in-house except our leathers and our wedding dresses; we send them to a leather company.”

Over the years, Dick’s has added additional drop locations throughout the area including at Fallers Furniture in Clarion, Dittman’s Consignment in Brookville, Kelly’s in Lucinda, Nicole’s Bridal in Seneca, Brenda’s Stitch & Stuff in Clarion, Burns & Burns Associates in Tionesta, and Victorian City Art & Frame in Franklin.

While dry cleaning is their primary function, Dick’s also offers a whole line of related services, including shoe repair, pressing, alterations, regular laundry services, and wedding preservation. They clean everything from drapes and nursing station curtains to marching band uniforms and choir robes. They even handle the cleaning of the Santa and Easter Bunny suits for the malls in the region.


(Pictured: Dick Salvo and Steve Hannold working on shoe repair.)

“All my grandkids, they come in when we have all the Santa suits and Easter Bunnies and they always know we take care of all them.”

Salvo himself handles daily pick up routes, traveling to pick up and drop off items not only at their drop locations, but also at a number of other business and other locations, ranging from banks, lawyers’ offices, doctors’ offices, and insurance offices, to local schools and hospitals.

According to Salvo, while the basics of the dry cleaning business haven’t changed too much over the years, beyond some changes in the fabrics and dyes, the industry has definitely shifted to account for changes in culture.

“That’s been a big change, and that’s something that has hurt the dry cleaning industry: a lot of people just don’t wear dry cleanables anymore. You go to church and see not many people even wear suits anymore. That has cut into it a lot. A lot of the business has dwindled, but with us, we’ve been able to survive because we’re everywhere with just this one location.”

The business currently has two different types of dry cleaning machines, one that utilizes Perchloroethylene, otherwise known as “perc”, used for heavier jobs like removing grease, and one that utilizes Hydrocarbon, a more environmentally friendly solvent used for regular dry cleaning.

The process allows the clothing to be completely cleaned in a gentle manner without utilizing any water.

“The dry cleaning fluid has no water content. It’s a fluid, but there’s no water, it’s a solvent. When you put the clothes in, they actually wash the whole cycle, they extract, then they dry completely. They go in dry and come out dry,” Salvo noted.

“Probably 80% of the stuff we do is washable, but people still get it dry cleaned because the dry cleaning does save your clothes. It’s not as rough on it. So a lot of people, they bring polos in, or just anything, because they last longer. And when they go through the dry cleaning process, they’re 100% sterile. It eliminates everything, bacteria, everything.”

Salvo also noted that while the machines and the solvents are important, there’s much more to the business than just running the equipment.

“A lot of people don’t know a lot about dry cleaning. There’s a lot to it. It’s not just ‘throw it in a machine’ and it’s done. There’s so many different fabrics, there’s so many different colors, the dyes that run, and some of the plastics that can get hard and melt, but just about everything washable is dry cleanable so long as you know your materials,” he said.

“And it’s a lot of hours. You have to keep up with it. It’s 24/7 and it’s a tough business. A lot of people think you don’t do much with them, but if you would spend a day in here with these girls, you’d see it’s a job. In the summertime you’re dealing with the heat and all you’ve got is fans running. There’s no way of doing anything else with the piping and the steam and stuff. You just get used to it. But it’s nice in the wintertime: you come in here and we’ve got the windows and the doors all open.”

One thing Salvo definitely doesn’t worry about is new competition moving into the area.

“I don’t think you’d ever see a dry cleaner start back up from scratch. It’s just so expensive. The one machine I’m looking at to purchase in July is running about $55,000. That’s just one machine. And with all the regulations and stuff, it’s just almost impossible.”

According to Salvo, the two main things they’ve focused on over the years are the quality of their work and keeping the cost down for their customers.

“We go to do something and I still hear my mom in the background, she’s passed away now but she’s drummed it into our heads…we’re all really fussy with it. We care about what we do and what we send out. And we try to keep the prices down. We keep our prices very reasonable, compared to a lot of others. You get into the dry cleaners in the city, we’re at about half of what they are. As long as we can do it, we’ll do it at that [price] and try to save people money.”

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