Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Truman Dry Cleaners

Harry S. Truman, Library of Congress,

You are opening a dry cleaning business just after World War II. What do you name it? In the case of the storefront at the corner of Mahoning Avenue and North Portland in Youngstown, you named it after the then current president, Harry S. Truman. Not only was there instant name recognition, but Truman was always impeccably dressed as you can see in this portrait. One of Truman’s earlier endeavors was a partnership in a haberdashery, selling men’s clothing and accessories.

I grew up less than a hundred yards from Truman Dry Cleaners on North Portland Avenue. One of my early tasks was to take my dad’s shirts, and less often his suits or dress slacks for dry cleaning and pressing–medium starch on the shirts! You would drop off the items to be dry cleaned, and receive a claim check.

A few days later came the tricky part. I would bring the claim check and money to pay for the cleaning. Then you would watch the clerk run this conveyor on which hundreds of people’s laundry hung until the item that matched the claim check came up. Using a pole with a hook at the end, she would lift your items off, and give them to you. Then I had to get them home without anything getting wrinkled (dad frowned on that). Fortunately, it was a very short walk.

When I was young, the business was just a small storefront with a big neon sign in front. Later, the then-owners, a family by the name of Zwicker, expanded the building roughly tripling its size. They also added a drive through, entered off of North Portland and exiting onto Mahoning Avenue. Business was changing from walk-up businesses to serving people as they drove from place to place doing errands in their cars.

A few years later, probably in the late 1960’s they built an additional building, a huge garage-like structure. I thought they stored supplies there. All I knew was that one of the family owned a cool, light gray Corvette Stingray. I drooled every time I saw it. It turns out that it was the birthplace of a new business and an auto collection. In the 1970’s Fred Zwicker and his wife started a business making sandblasters and cabinets used in auto repainting. This grew into the business TP Tools & Equipment, now located in Canfield and one very cool car turned into a car museum, the TP Tools Auto Museum, that includes a fantastic car collection and the back bar from Strouss’ famous malt bar.

Twenty-three years ago the cleaners was sold to Rick Carlini, who changed the name Appearance Plus Dry Cleaners. On Thursday, January 21, WKBN reported that this business, which had operated at the same location for 75 years was closing and the buildings up for sale. Rick Carlini is retiring.

It is amazing that the business has had such a good run. That would be good in any place. But when I saw the report, I realized that one more part of my past was history. It is one of the last of so many local businesses within a short walk of my home to go, one of the many places part of the fabric of my everyday life. Here’s hoping that it can become the location of a new small business.

[Addendum: After posting, two Zwicker family members left comments, filling in many gaps in my story about the history of their businesses. So be sure to read the comments!]

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

6 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Truman Dry Cleaners

  1. My father grew up on North Portland and as was typical during those times met and married my mom who grew up on North Evanston. I see do recall Truman Dry Cleaners. The neon sign always caught my attention when we would go for a visit. My “Portland “ grandparents moved to the “country” Austintown township in the 50’s.

  2. I enjoyed reading the article about my parent’s cleaners. It was started by my Mom and Dad (Mary and Fred) and I spent many hours working there. Since the year the business was started was the year that I was born, it was told to me by my parents that they named the store “Truman’s” because it was an easy name to spell and had good name recognition. One of my earliest childhood memories was living on N. Portland and saving my change to purchase penny candy at Jesse’s, a small store next to Washington Elementary School. Since I’m the owner of the 1965 Corvette Stingray mentioned in this article it really brought back memories. When I moved to Florida in 1973 I brought the Vette with me. For many years, it was my everyday to/from work car. I still own it to this day but only drive it occassionally. It is not for sale!

    • Bill, thanks for writing. I thought you were the one who owned the ‘Vette, but wasn’t sure and didn’t see your name in any of the places I looked. I remember the store by Washington. Glad to hear you still have the ‘Vette. Loved that car!

  3. I am Fred Zwicker – Bill Zwicker’s older brother. I built the larger building on the rear of the Mahoning Avenue lot for storage of several of my antique cars (a runaway hobby of mine). After our mother moved to Florida, our nephew, Tom Reardon owned and operated Truman’s Cleaners for a few years, later selling it to Rick Carlini. I was going to Youngstown College and after graduating in 1954 I was drafted into the Army and spent two years as a Counter-Intelligence agent in Tokyo and Korea. In 1956 my tour was up and I was going to transfer to the FBI, but decided to return to Youngstown to help my mother with the cleaners. In October of 1956 I started Truman’s Cleaners at 1330 Market Street, and installed modern equipment to dry clean and press the clothing from the 1730 Mahoning Ave store and the Market Street store. We also installed a shirt laundry and refinished leathers and suedes for both stores. This was prior to “wash and wear” and business was booming.

    As I was aware of the upcoming expected business decline due to wash and wear, and as part of my antique car hobby, I started a small sideline mail order business, selling car polish, paint stripper, and small sandblasters for removing rust from antique cars. At the time many pre-war cars were being restored and most were full of rust, so I was in the right place at the right time. I sold the Market Street Cleaners in the mid-1980s and we built a large facility in Canfield, Ohio where we now have a 50-car antique car museum (Open every Sat from 10-3 – Free Admission). We sell auto restoration tools and equipment world-wide. I am 89 years old and the business is now operated by my son, Robert Zwicker. My wife Nancy and I still come to work a few days a week to help out, as we are very busy.

    I remember your parents well, and also the Ucellos who lived across the street and the Stille family further down North Portland. Pauline Kachmer worked as our seamstress and also lived on North Portland.
    ..

    • Fred, thank you for writing. I appreciate the history of the business, as well as the story of TP Tools. Several others reminded me of the Market Street store. Always wondered what went on in the large building in back, which was almost across from our home at 21 N. Portland. Little did we realize a new business was launching! I must stop out at the car museum some time when we are in town. Mention of all the old North Portland families brings back many memories. Thank you for filling in the gaps of my story on your businesses!

      • I grew up with Bobby ,I assume your son. He lived on Thurber lane. This is a very interesting story and I am going to try and get to the museum in canfield

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