Many jokes have been made in light of the pandemic’s sudden switch-up of meeting locations from conference room to home office Zoom – and the lack of pants being worn in these new private, professional settings. Ray Kroner can attest to the truth behind these comic tales. The dry cleaner of 43 years chuckles, “We hardly saw any pants. Everybody was just sending tops in!”
While he can laugh about it now, the sudden slap of a 50% drop in business at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was no laughing matter. A third generation owner of Kroner Dry Cleaners
, Ray Kroner debated at the time whether to follow his father’s methodology or his own instincts to overcome the odds. In the end, Kroner prevailed with a combination of the two.
“My dad always used to say, ‘Just keep your head down and keep working.’ And I really wrestled with that concept because sometimes you’ve got to look up and see what's ahead of you,” says Kroner.
He switched from monthly to weekly staff meetings and emphasized continuing to provide the best product available and letting the chips fall where they may. At the same time, he keenly eyed opportunities for business presented by the pandemic itself.
“Fortunately for us, we already provided services for drapes and comforters and home items. And when people were at home all of a sudden, they had more time to clean their homes and were more conscious about it,” says Kroner. “So we made sure that people understood that we could provide those services.”
Additionally, he reached out to local hospitals and even the National Guard, realizing that his business’s assistance might be helpful under the circumstances.
“We fought tooth and nail to make things work,” says Kroner, who was relieved to have delivery already up and running as in-person business exchanges came to a sudden halt. “Those are the types of diversifications that, I think, held us together.”
Business has now picked back up to its pre-pandemic pace. Kroner credits pivotal and innovative changes in marketing and services, as well as a longstanding tradition of customer service, for carrying Kroner Dry Cleaners through the tough times experienced by all those in the essential service industries – particularly the brick and mortar strongholds.
Kroner’s grandfather, who started the business in 1939, was no stranger to rolling with the punches. During the Great Depression, Lou Kroner Sr. opted to close his tailoring shop and go into the dry cleaning business to meet the changing needs of the times.
Ray Kroner has also seen plenty of challenges, riding the wave of wash-and-wear polyester suits in the 70’s, and losing business due to disposable fashion trends and casual workplace dress codes over the years. But despite these ongoing trials and the swift blow dealt by the pandemic, Kroner Dry Cleaners has stayed afloat by providing a level of quality and service that never go out of style.
“One of the first things you do in the morning is you decide what you're going to wear. And those fabrics then become a piece of your personality. And when you take that garment to the dry cleaner, you're subconsciously saying ‘Here. Here's something that represents me. Take care of it,’” says Kroner. “I believe people are really looking for a personal service. And we provide a very personal service.”
The business expanded in 2018, opening a second location in Mt. Adams to increase the reach of the original Cheviot shop on North Bend.
Ray Kroner sees modern shifts toward sustainable fashion as a likely buoy to the industry. As quality pieces and timeless styles regain favor and dressing for work returns, caring for these items becomes more of a concern.
He has also worked hard to acquire the asset of sustainable, green dry cleaning, which uses biodegradable solvents. Securing the most up-to-date and safest equipment available was both expensive and challenging, but Kroner conveys that he wants his discerning patrons to feel comfortable in every aspect of their decision to use Kroner Dry Cleaners.
He emphasizes that whatever the time or season, supporting all reputable small businesses is important to their success and growth, and to the sustainability of our local communities.
“The pandemic has made people appreciate small business, whether it's retail or service. We feel like we're seeing more and more of that,” says Kroner gratefully, adding, “I've always said it's very nice that they have a Small Business Saturday, but we live in every day.”
Kroner’s two locations stand at the ready to receive and care for the community’s holiday table linens and piles of houseguest laundry, making more time to share with those near and dear ones who may have been missed over the past couple years.