Page 14 - BusinessWest July 6, 2020
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Park Cleaners
‘The Place Where COVID Goes to Die’ Is Still in
Recovery Mode
several months have been like. “There are new rules, and we have to make sure that anyone who deals with contaminated laundry is fully prepared; we’ve had to change the way we do business, and that’s just one of the challenges.”
Like many business owners we spoke with, Merigian said that, while the focus has been on com- panies reopening — and that’s important — the issue isn’t whether they’re doing business, it’s whether they can make any money if they are. And for ventures in many sec- tors, the quick answers are either ‘no’ or ‘yes, but not enough.’
And there are obvious questions about when those answers will change.
Merigian says she’s heard from officials at MGM who tell her that some employees will be coming
back ‘soon,’ and that some business will follow. But how much business remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, questions remain about when gath- erings like weddings, business functions, and even funerals will return. And working from home may become a long-term proposition for many workers — if not something approaching permanent.
But, like most business we’ve spoken with in recent weeks, Merigian is looking optimistically toward fall and the possible return of something approaching ‘normal.’
“The fall definitely looks good, so long as COVID subsides or they find a vaccine,” she said. “I see a very good fall, but then I tend to be optimistic.
“It’s a waiting game,” she went on, referring spe- cifically to MGM, but also to all those other events — and sources of business — she mentioned at the top. Until weddings and funerals resume and more workers return to the offices they left in early March, generating business will be a challenge.
In the meantime, at least people will need clean shirts for all those Zoom meetings. u
—George O’Brien
Still optimistic, despite a gloomy year to date, King said people are call- ing and asking about service to the casinos.
“People are ready to get out — they’ve been cooped up for a long time,” he said, adding that he hopes there will soon be places to take people.
Gas certainly won’t be as cheap as it was back in March, but all things con- sidered, that’s certainly one of the more subtle cruelties stemming from the pandemic. u
—George O’Brien
Rebecca Merigian can’t find too many silver linings in this COVID-19 pandemic.
But at least people still need clean shirts
for those Zoom meetings. Dress pants? Not so much. “We’ve seen a lot of shirt business, and we’ve
actually picked up quite a few new shirt custom- ers,” said Merigian, owner of Springfield-based Park Cleaners, adding quickly that most of her other
 “There’s been no weddings, no funerals, no graduations, no work ... no anything to prepare for.”
steady supplies of busi- ness have run dry or mostly dry over the past three and half months.
That includes MGM Springfield, which award- ed her a lucrative con- tract just before it opened nearly two years ago — one that sends uniforms for all its employees her way — that effectively tripled her business vol- ume. The casino closed in mid-March, as did a host of other businesses, and Park Cleaners was
Rebecca Merigian says the pandemic, by canceling all kinds of events and shuttering businesses like MGM Springfield, put a huge dent in dry-cleaning volume.
items. Meanwhile, some don’t want to spend their time doing the wash, so they’re sending it in to be cleaned and folded.
“Cleanliness has definitely been on people’s minds through all of this, and that’s helped keep
us going,” she said, adding that she’s also noted an uptick in work cleaning uniforms for first respond- ers, in part because there’s a nice discount forwarded to those frontline workers.
But even healthcare-related business is down, she noted, adding that many practices have only recent- ly reopened and are seeing fewer patients. So if they dropped off items to be cleaned twice a week before the pandemic, now they’re down to once a week.
In the meantime, there are now a host of new protocols and safety precautions to follow at this business that has, informally, marketed itself as “the place where COVID goes to die,” Merigian said.
“It’s like starting over or starting a new business, with a very uncertain future — the risks are very high,” she said when asked to explain what the past
       just one of many local vendors to take a huge hit when it did.
“We’ve heard from them ... they’re starting to bring some employees back, so we’re on call,” she said, adding quickly that she’s not sure how many will be back and just how much work will be coming back in.
But the fallout goes well beyond the casino, said Merigian, second-generation owner of this fam-
ily business. As large numbers of people continue to work at home she noted, there is far less need to get dress clothes cleaned and pressed. But beyond workplace clothes, the company has been hit by the almost complete stop to many types of events for which people needed clothes cleaned and pressed.
“There’s been no weddings, no funerals, no grad- uations, no work ... no anything to prepare for,” she said, adding that overall, she projects that business if off a whopping 85% to 90% from a year ago, with MGM’s closure being easily the biggest hit.
She has been helped by the stay-at-home trend in a few respects, though; she reports that people are being more diligent about cleaning in general, and especially about cleaning linens, bedding, and other
   King Ward
Continued from page 11
“We’re banking on college athlet- ics coming back,” he noted. “If there is a light at the end of the tunnel — and that’s if — it would be schools getting back in session.”
As for the casinos, and especially MGM, King Ward was given what
was at the time (the summer of 2018) thought to be a game-changing con- tract to bring people to the casino from various destinations across the region. To say things haven’t worked out as planned would be an understatement, said King, noting that the service — subsidized by MGM at the start — was scaled back only six months after the
casino opened in August 2018, and it eventually evolved into a door-to-door service using vans rather than buses, with those choosing this option getting credits for the gaming floor and lunch — what amounted to what King called “a free ride to the casino.”
“But it never really took off,” he said, adding quickly that the service does have the potential to grow, and, like many others, he’s watching and wait- ing to see if and when the casino will reopen.
There will be a lot of watching and waiting for this company, which, like so many others, is dependent on other businesses and institutions for its live- lihood. The pandemic has impacted
all of them, and, as noted earlier, the trickle-down, in this specific case, was much more like a torrent.
So much so that King was one of many within the bus industry who ventured to Washington, D.C. several weeks ago to lobby elected leaders for financial assistance for a sector he said is often overlooked within the larger transportation industry.
“I don’t expect to be busy again until Labor Day, unless something happens and the casinos start accepting buses,” he told BusinessWest, adding that ‘busy’ is certainly a relative term in 2020, and there are myriad factors that will deter- mine when, and to what extent, the buses start rolling again.
 14 JULY 6, 2020
Staff Photo

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