There's something different about the corner of Lancaster and Summit avenues in Cumru Township, where Supreme Cleaners has been a landmark for around 50 years.

OK, so a lot has changed in just the last 13 months. Supreme Cleaners is completely remodeled inside and out, and there's a new retailer next door.

But there's something else — something you may not quite be able to put your finger on right away unless you drive by the property every day.

The building's second and third floors are gone.

In January 2019, a fire destroyed Supreme Cleaners, shuttering the dry cleaning business for nearly nine months. Upstairs, where the inferno originated, was so burned, so charred, it required a total tear down.

Rather than rebuild, the top of the structure was removed entirely.

"We increased the sight lines of the neighbors behind us," said Missy Steber, district manager for Supreme Cleaners, joking homeowners can now watch the annual Community Days fireworks from their windows. "They're thrilled."

The management team at Supreme can laugh now that the ruin is behind them.

"Out of something very upsetting and tragic came a lot of good things," said Steber.

Sifting through the ashes

Lazaros Scantzos was in the Poconos on a ski trip when he received a text message at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. It was a photo from a customer: flames in the apartment above Supreme Cleaners.

Scantzos contacted owner Don Robitzer and raced back to Berks County.

"My husband obviously was very upset with the phone call," said Marian Robitzer, chief financial officer of Supreme Cleaners. "He rushed out here and my son and I followed him shortly thereafter, but the best word to describe his reaction was he was devastated."

By the time management arrived, the blaze was contained and the majority of the clothing at the dry cleaner was out on the street.

Authorities determined the fire was caused by a candle in the residence upstairs. After rescuing a woman from the building, firefighters started removing inventory from Supreme.

Thanks to their quick actions, almost all of the customers' personal effects were saved — among the garments, wedding gowns — but the hard work was only just beginning.

"We had a number of employees here on Sunday going through all of the clothing," said Scantzos, noting even some who had the day off pitched in where they could. "Everything had to get taken out of the bags, re-marked and put back together with their original order.

"It was winter, so it was freezing outside. It was dirty. And it stunk. All of us smelled like smoke at the end."

To remove the smell from the salvaged clothes, Scantzos learned how to perform fire restoration, a service not previously offered by Supreme. Remarkably, just one week later, clients were able to pick up their items, good as new.

Don Robitzer owns three Hollywood Cleaners drop stores across Berks, so Supreme Cleaners customers collected their belongings at the Wyomissing location. He also owns the stores' cleaning facility in Reading.

A fresh start

Marian Robitzer said there was never a doubt Supreme Cleaners would be rebuilt. Don Robitzer, who purchased the property and business more than 10 years ago, was on site every day to manage construction.

When the doors finally reopened Oct. 19, the end result was a more "welcoming" space.

"We wanted to create an open, cleaner look," said Scantzos. "It was kind of tight when you walked in the main door. It was closed in. There was not much space. Now, it's wide open. People can see all the way to the back.

"It was important to rebuild and have this in the image of the pride that we take in serving our customers."

And while the apartment upstairs is gone, Supreme instead has a new tenant next door. Pollack Furs opened in January inside a renovated storefront.

"We were able to reutilize a lot of unused space from when we moved all of the production out of here," said Steber. "We had tons of square footage that we weren't using anymore."

Supreme Cleaners also retained all of its old services, like its on-site tailor. "We don't do just hemming of pants or adjusting the waist," said Scantzos. "We do total reconstruction. We do wedding gowns, prom dresses."

Prices remain the same as they were prior to the updates, while customer service continues to be management's primary focus.

"Clerks will see someone pull up in their car and have their clothes waiting for them by the time they walk through the door," said Marian Robitzer. "Our employees are like our family and our customers are like extended family to us."

Of course, Supreme and Hollywood Cleaners can probably aid with fire restoration, too.

Still rebuilding

Less than nine months after the fire, Supreme Cleaners was back in business. However, customers who were relieved their clothing wasn't damaged, then patient while it was re-cleaned, may be unaware the store reopened or have since settled into a new routine.

Repairing Supreme wasn't easy. Getting back to normal isn't any easier.

"We're trying to rebuild our clientele here," said Steber. "When you disrupt peoples' habits for nine months, even nine days I suppose, it's tough."

If this experience proved anything though, it's the little dry cleaning business that's been a mainstay in Cumru Township will be up for the challenge.

"Persevere," said Marian Robitzer. "You don't give up."

comments powered by Disqus