For the first time in 54 years, the storefront at 1124 S. Adams St. is devoid of seasoned-but-reliable dry cleaning presses, a winding motorized rack along the ceiling and what seemed like an endless collection of silk dresses, business suits and cashmere sweaters.
The longtime proprietors of Crysti Cleaners, John and Carol Cianfrini — along with Carol’s cousin, Dee Bertelsen — are hanging it up after more than half a century there. Or, rather, they are asking their last dozen or so customers to come and pick up their orders, so that they may hang those up on their own. After five decades plus at the same location in Adams Square, the Cianfrinis are expediting their retirement by more than a year, a decision accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The business will officially close on Monday, June 1, and any leftover clothes will be donated to Goodwill.
“I can’t get over the extent of the love shown to a dry cleaner,” John Cianfrini said this week, as if in disbelief, while sitting in the largely gutted property amid boxes, tools and a rack of clothing sheathed in plastic. “We were just dry cleaning people! Some of [Crysti’s customers] are almost in tears.”
When the Cianfrinis first rented the storefront on April 1, 1966, it had been an old laundromat. Soon thereafter, thanks to John’s skills as a contractor, Crysti Cleaners was born, the newest business on a little treeless commercial strip between Chevy Chase Drive and Palmer Avenue, across the street from a handful of modest Spanish Colonial homes and next door to the original Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor.
The couple — he from the Buffalo, New York, area and she from Cleveland — had met in Hermosa Beach when John and his friends taught her to surf. He had been a factory rep for Northrop Corp., and she was previously a secretary for the U.S. Air Force; a chance home purchase in Hermosa Beach after they wedded, however, pointed her to dry cleaning after the local cleaners offered to train her at their facility.
“It was a thing we fell into accidentally,” Carol said.
The Cianfrinis began working for a dry cleaning chain — Carol doing the cleaning and John the maintenance — until they bought the laundromat business on Adams Street. Carol and Bertelsen managed the new business and John continued contracting work. The Cianfrinis eventually bought the entire building. They raised their daughters there, living nearby in a home John built, and gave them their first jobs there.
“We were kind of dirt poor,” John explained. “We didn’t have a rich mommy and daddy. We worked and we saved and we accumulated enough money. It was quite an adventure.”
An adventure it was. In their decades in Adams Square, the Cianfrinis and their employees became well acquainted with the scores of families moving to Glendale to raise children. Crysti Cleaners became the one-stop shop for Glendale’s police officers and firefighters to have their uniforms tailored, cleaned and repaired — officers with the Los Angeles Police Department Northeast Division also flocked to Crysti Cleaners.
“We met Carl when he came onto the department,” Carol said, referring to Glendale Police Chief Carl Povilaitis. “A lot of fire chiefs who left were friends of ours, too.”
Povilaitis, in a phone interview, said the closure of the business was “bittersweet” and that he looked forward to congratulating the community leaders on their “early retirement.”
“They’ve been heavily involved with the community as far as I can remember,” the police chief said. “For Glendale PD, in speaking to the tradition of community policing, they have been tremendous for us and for the city.
“As a non-writer using a pun, you could actually say they were part of the ‘fabric of the community,’” Povilaitis quipped.
In the 1990s, the couple spearheaded the Adams Square Merchants Association, which worked with the local redevelopment agency to secure public funding for projects and events. Through the association, the neighborhood would frequently play host to street fairs and free movie nights, and the city eventually widened the street and added a variety of trees to the landscape.
“That was a really pleasant six, seven, eight years,” John recalled. “We got a lot of things passed and we had a lot of cooperation.”
In the late 1990s, John would join the city’s Design Review Board, helping his other commissioners confirm zoning code compliance for new projects or decide whether a project was deserving of a variance.
“Everybody wanted to build high-rise houses and most of us [on the board] didn’t want six stories,” he explained. “We wanted something more domestic. Parking became such an issue here.”
All the while, Bertelsen helped behind Crysti’s counter — “They’re better at talking,” she shyly quipped, “I just work” — and kept a container of dog treats ready for any that passed by. Indeed, the nameplate on the front counter reads simply “Carol & Dee.”
“Dee’s been here,” Carol said fondly. “Dee’s helped raise the kids. She’s done everything.”
Asked what she’s going to miss the most, Bertelsen said she’d miss customers — and the dogs.
“I know exactly which dog is going to come which day,” she said.
Though the Cianfrinis had penciled in a retirement date of August 2021, they couldn’t have guessed the pandemic would happen. Though the store, as an essential business, was allowed to remain open, its weekly income plummeted from more than $2,500 to barely $400.
So, they decided, it was time.
“Wouldn’t you know it, the day we announced it, we had an avalanche of customers,” John mused.
Echoed Carol, also laughing: “People were coming in with armfuls of clothing to say, ‘I need this cleaned,’ and I shook my head and said, ‘Oh, no, you can’t.’”
Now, it’s time to retire in Glendale, where they will await the end of the pandemic so they can see their friends and old customers again.
“It’s been a good life here,” John said. “We lucked out when we came here. We were on the cusp of a changing community.”