Friday August 23, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- The owner of the only remaining dry cleaner in downtown Brattleboro has decided to close his doors for good.

Lawton Dry Cleaners, located at 89 Elliot St., is not taking any new business and the owner, Gordon Adams, is opening the shop each day to let customers pick up their laundry as he slowly returns the remaining clothing.

Adams says he doesn't want his decision to be interpreted as an indication of the downtown business climate or of the challenges of running a small business or of the changing laundry business.

Adams was hired in 1955 to deliver laundry at Lawton's.

He purchased the business in 1978.

Adams is 85 and he is ready for a change.

"My daughter wants to take me to Florida and I guess I should see a winter in the south," said Adams, who grew up in Marlboro and has spent most of his life in Windham County. "But I hear it gets awful hot down there. I'm a Vermonter and I guess I'll come back."

All day Wednesday customers came in to pick up their laundry, wishing Adams well and asking him about the other dry cleaners in town.

There is a cleaner on Putney Road and another in West Brattleboro he told them.

His business is for sale and someone might open up another dry cleaning business downtown, but until then an era is coming to a close in downtown Brattleboro.

After almost 60 years of interacting with the residents of southeastern Vermont, Adams does have a story or two to tell.

In 1976 he was working at the laundromat when the owner, Joe Mantel, was shot and killed while working at the EconoLodge on Canal Street, which Martel also owned.

The shooting happened on May 22, which is Adams' birthday.

Two years later Mantel's wife offered Adams the business.

When Adams first took over the business, he said, there was a grizzly bear rug in storage that supposedly belonged to Teddy Roosevelt.

The rug was owned by someone from Long Island who had a summer home in Vermont, and Adams said the rug eventually was picked up and it is now in a Texas museum.

Adams also had a story about a local doctor who liked to hunt and store his skins in the laundromat basement storage area.

Lawton's had a liberal policy about accepting animal skins but Adams said the line was drawn at skunk skins.

"It wouldn't be good for business," he said, simply.

Adams' wife died suddenly of a heart attack a few years ago and one of his daughters recently died from cancer, as well.

His grandson said he no longer wanted to work anymore in the Elliot Street shop and so Adams decided it might be time to make a change.

The building and equipment are for sale and Adams is going to try to make sure anyone who still has a ticket and a piece of clothing at Lawton's can get their dry cleaning back.

"I've met a lot of nice people here," Adams said. "I guess I can leave for a while. I can always come home."

Adams is going to try to be down at his shop daily. Anyone who has a piece of clothing in the Elliot Street shop can call 802-2549380 to arrange a time to pick up the clothes.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.