Century-old Kimbrough Cleaners serves Detroit’s mayors, celebrities and local residents

Century-old Kimbrough Cleaners serves Detroit’s mayors, celebrities and local residents
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Chris Chae might not live in West Village, but he is a faithful community servant there.

He volunteers at the nearby soup kitchen and offers scholarships to local teens graduating high school. He sees giving back to the neighborhood that supports his store, Kimbrough Cleaners, as a special obligation.

The store, located at 1815 Van Dyke, has been around for more than 100 years. Chae, a Korean immigrant, took it over in 1990. He once worked at another dry cleaners but wanted to own a business.

“To me the community means a lot. A lot of people know me. The young people come … and they call me ‘papa,’” says owner Chris Chae. Photo by Elayne Gross

The shop is a part of Detroit’s immigrant business class that is responsible for generating $15.5 million in income in 2014, according to the “New Americans in Detroit” report issued by Global Detroit this year.

“I worked with the community now for a long time,” says Chae. “To me the community means a lot. A lot of people know me. The young people come … and they call me ‘papa.’”

His service and friendliness at the family operation attracts everyday customers, which has helped it prosper as it watched other nearby small business come and go. Kimbrough also has served almost every Detroit mayor since Coleman A. Young as well as celebrities visiting Detroit.

Ed Pierce has been a faithful patron for about 16 years. He frequented another cleaning store when someone told him about Kimbrough and he made the switch.

“I like how they clean their clothes,” he says. “Their service is excellent. They’re very friendly and I’d recommend them to anybody.”

Pierce has nothing but positive things to say about the shop’s owner, who he counts as a friend.

“He’s a buddy of mine,” he says. “I’ve known him for a while, and I hope he continues to stay in the neighborhood.”

Chae says he has no intention of leaving, though he might retire within the next 10 years.

“People here are very supportive,” he says. “I support them, they support me.”

During the 2003 Northeast blackout, which left 50 million people in multiple states without electricity, neighbors near the drycleaner kept watch to see that no one broke in.

In 2003 Kimbrough was named “Best Cleaner” by the Detroit Free Press. Chris Chae says customers love his cleaning simply because he provides quality, including clothing alterations.

Kimbrough Cleaners is open six days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturdays. Chae says he typically works from open to close.

“It’s a public business. You have to work a long time and long hours,” he says.

In 2003 Kimbrough was named “Best Cleaner” by the Detroit Free Press.  Chae says customers love his cleaning simply because he provides quality, including clothing alterations.

“I do good work,” Chae says. “I’m the best spotter (spot-remover) in this entire area, I think.

“All customer clothing goes through my hands. I’m human – I can make mistakes, too – but people are very happy to come over here.”

Small shops are the mainstay of our neighborhoods. Open the door and look inside and you will discover dreamers and doers who embody the spirit and energy of Detroit’s entrepreneurial class. We invite you to meet them inside our Small Shops series, sponsored by Bank of America.

Editor’s Note: Kimbrough Cleaners is located at 1815 Van Dyke, Detroit, MI 48214. You can reach them at: (313) 579-3800

This Small Shops feature is sponsored by Bank of America.

To learn more about Bank of America’s many programs and resources for small business owners please click here.

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