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Miller grew 'really tired' of struggle against Covid economy

Jeff Miller had a pithy response when asked about his decision to close Miller’s Fine Dry Cleaning.

“My takeaway is when your horse dies, dismount,” he said.
A hundred and seven years is a long time for any business, and besides being durable Miller’s has been popular and well-known, not just for quality garment cleaning but for the owner’s civic leadership and nationally known HonorAir effort.
“It’s been great,” Miller said of his lifelong day job. “We’ve gone through some tough times and we’ve gone through some incredibly good times where we could do a lot in the community. We could give a lot back. We were making a lot of money. It was really happy. You looked forward to coming to work.”
The third generation owner of the business, Miller learned a lot from his dad, a World War II veteran who inspired Miller to create HonorAir.
“I had a great time working with my father,” he said. “He was just the best mentor and best friend anybody could ever ask for. Between his very conservative financial views having grown up in the Depression and my crazy-aggressive ones relative to his, it was kind of a fun battle every day because I was always wanting to expand and he was always wanting to make sure we didn’t have any debt.”
When Miller wrote up a business plan to start his first coin laundry, his dad said, “That’s great. Use your condo as leverage.” The son did, and after the first day in business he eagerly retrieved and counted the quarters.
“We had $8, and I remember I woke up at 3 in the morning, sat straight up in bed and thought, Oh my God, what have I done”
Miller’s could survive the usual dry spells of mid-winter, the sixties counter-culture, the Great Recession and regular economic cycles. What it could not overcome was a worldwide pandemic that rearranged people’s work lives and made obsolete conventions of a pressed shirt and freshly cleaned dress for office jobs.
“Covid decimated us,” Miller said. “A year ago, we had a good summer, kind of coming back, doing camp and stuff and then January, February, March, once again, the bottom fell out of it. People are just not dressing like they did. January, February, March, I had to infuse $75,000 just to pay our bills and payroll through those three months to get to the next uptick, which is spring.”
While the downturn had been battering the business for 2½ years, the end came fairly quickly.
“I finally just got everybody together and I said, ‘Guys, I’m really tired of this.’ I mean, I press shirts, usually four hours a day. … It’s not, ‘What in the world happened?’ but ‘What happened to the world?’ Small business everywhere is tangling with this. I know I’m not special. I’m not any harder hit. Maybe I’m just older and just not willing to go back in the trenches and fight it out.”
He said he announced a fair severance plan for employees, some of whom have been with Miller’s for decades. “A bunch of ‘em already have jobs,” he said.
He plans to put the property on the market once it clears environmental permits. The dry-cleaning industry created a fund that the state uses to pay for any cleanup of solvents when a dry cleaner transitions to another use.
In one of his last acts as business owner, Miller updated the familiar sign that announces events, celebrations, thanks yous and memorials.
“A lot of people will miss the sign more than they’ll miss anything,” he said. “I came down last night at 10 o’clock and put it on the marquee that we’re going out of business and had the light off on it and put ‘Going out of business’ signs on the windows up front.”

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Miller’s Fine Dry Cleaning will continue to accept garments and household items for processing through Saturday, Aug. 20. Beginning Aug. 22, for a period of at least 30 days, it will only return cleaned items to customers. It won’t accept new items. Miller’s will be available to answer any questions or concerns by phone at (828) 693-7426, or at Miller’s Linen Service, which is owned by Jeff Miller’s cousins, is not affected by the closure and will continue to operate as usual.