ATLANTIC CITY - At age 81, Matt Ingegneri is finally retiring from the business he started with his two older brothers 57 years ago after their mother said she wanted the boys - then living at opposite ends of the Earth - to be together.
Manhattan Cleaners & Tailors, the pink-lettered white building on Atlantic Avenue near the foot of the Atlantic City Expressway, plans to close permanently this month.
The business was sold recently for $975,000 to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to make room for Bass Pro Shops, a planned 70,000-square-foot retail store to be the center of Tanger Outlets The Walk's final expansion.
The last of the brothers in the dry-cleaning and tailoring business, Ingegneri said working 10 hours per day, six days per week was becoming too much for him and his wife, Adriana.
The shop has stopped operations but expects to remain open through late August for people to retrieve clothes left behind.
The closing caps the role the Australian-born, Italian-descendant family has played in the the resort's ever-shifting landscape since 1956.
"Things change, nothing stays the same in life," said Ingegneri, of Galloway Township, who speaks with an Italian accent acquired from years living in Italy during World War II. "And at the same time, we got older."
Brothers Frank, Anthony and Matt Ingegneri were born in Australia, to which their Sicilian-born parents had immigrated and where their father bought a sugar plantation.
Their father died in 1937, prompting their mother, Domenica, to move back to Sicily to be with family. The onset of World War II kept them from returning to Australia for years.
The oldest brother, Frank, who died in 2011 at age 84, had returned to Australia, where he lived with his wife, Nancy, and their children.
Anthony and Matt went with their mother to America, where they landed in New York and moved to Atlantic City, working at young ages at multiple jobs as busboys, barbers and bakers.
"My mother said I have three sons, I'd like to have them all together," Matt Ingegneri recalled. "We called our brother Frank in Australia and his wife to come here. When we were all here together, we decided instead of working for someone, we'd try to build a business ourselves."
They bought an existing dry-cleaning business in 1956 for $2,000.
Frank's wife, Nancy, was a dressmaker, a solid start for the new business, then located on Mississippi Avenue. The business grew slowly at first, putting cards in mailboxes in Margate and Longport. It eventually needed a bigger truck, and in 1967 moved to its present larger location, which once included a Fred Astaire dance studio, Ingegneri said.
The shop, which in its heyday had six to seven tailors working at a time, handled alterations for Boardwalk businesses, the burgeoning casino industry, and for celebrities such as Sammy Davis Jr. (who left a diamond-lined gold chain in a pocket once), Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
When the casinos came in 1979, the business expanded and added a second floor, said Norma Rzemyk, daughter of the late Frank Ingegneri.
Business slowed in the 1990s and the older brothers retired, leaving Matt Ingegneri and his wife to staff the shop.
"Things came to be a little tiresome, that we couldn't do it anymore. I'm 81 now," he said.
Ingegneri said potential buyers had expressed interest in his property before - the business is in a prominent area across from Trump Plaza - but earlier prospects had fallen through, he said, a trend likely exacerbated by the economic downturn.
Bass Pro expects to break ground in the third quarter this year, with an anticipated opening in early 2015, CRDA spokeswoman Kim Butler said.
Looking back on the family business, Ingegneri said his mother got her wish.
"We grew up without a father, so we kind of grew up very close," he said. The brothers lived for years in adjacent homes on Mississippi Avenue.
"We bowed out gracefully. It feels good to do that," Rzemyk said.
Matt Ingegneri said he has to figure out how to spend his retirement.
"I've got to find something to do. I've been working since I was 10 years old," he said.
His wife Adriana added, "He'd better find a hobby."
Contact Brian Ianieri:
Location: 2223 Atlantic Ave., Atlantic City
Owners: Matt and Adriana Ingegneri, of Galloway Township
In business: 1956 to 2013