Louisa Cleaners ends an 80-year run

Louisa Cleaners is the latest in a series of storefronts with long histories in the town of Louisa to close its doors.

Following on the heels of Maddox Feed Store and Bailey’s Drugstore, both of which shut down in the past year, Gerald Hiter announced he would end his run at the dry cleaning shop on Aug. 31.

People have had their clothing washed at the Meadow Street location since 1939, when it was founded by A.B. Vaughan. Hiter took over the business in the early 1980s from Vaughan’s son, William.

The business has seen a long, slow decline in volume as customers have changed their habits. Hospitals and other large institutions disappeared as clients in the 1960s when they moved to permanent press fabrics. As far the rest of the public, they don’t dress up as much as they used to, so they don’t need to do as much dry cleaning, Hiter said.  

If the shop were in a location with a denser population, it might have survived.

“You have to have a certain volume to make a profit, and that’s what you don’t have in a small town,” Hiter said. “People in banks and lawyers used to all wear suits and ties. That’s all changed.”

Hiter’s wife, Betty Rae, remembers roller skating as a child in between the rows of hanging fabrics and down the ramps on the side of the building. Her grandparents lived in the house next door, so she would visit them and the shop at the same time.

“I was here every day after school, putting up laundry and cleaning,” she remembered. “Back in those days you learned to roller skate early. I used to have a great old time.”

Hiter, 68, is looking forward to spending more time on hobbies, like fixing up an old Studebaker fire truck and other antique vehicles. He continues to be active with the Mineral Volunteer Fire Department, though he doesn’t run calls anymore.