Employee Elizabeth Burns, of Middle Township, presses a customer’s trousers at Model Cleaners in Cape May Court House. The shop also offers coin-operated washers and dryers, tailoring and shoe repair.

Dale Gerhard

Economic downturns can affect the dry cleaning industry, because high unemployment rates mean fewer people needing their clothes professionally cleaned.

During such leaner times, a diversified business within the industry helps balance that out, said Robert Rosenfeld, 45, who with his mother, Bernice, owns the longtime family business Model Cleaners in Cape May Court House.

Along with dry cleaning and tailoring, Model Cleaners has a coin-operated laundry with 20 washers and about 40 dryers, Rosenfeld said.

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When business in one area declines, the other helps offset it.

“With less people in the work force, it definitely impacts our business. Having the coin-operated laundry has helped us, and it’s stable because people, no matter what they’re wearing, need to keep their clothes clean,” said Rosenfeld, of Wildwood Crest.

“I think they both feed off each other,” he said. “If our dry cleaning volume is not that great, we have the coin-operated volume to pick us up.”

In the U.S., dry cleaning is a $9 billion industry spread out among nearly 39,000 businesses, most of which are family-run with fewer than five employees, according to market research firm IBISWorld.

Not including coin-operated laundries, the dry cleaning industry saw a 2.5 percent decline in growth from 2007 to 2012, IBISWorld says, with a modest upturn expected as incomes improve.

The industry has seen various shifts over the years as formal business and work attire have become more casual and the solvents used to clean clothes are becoming more environmentally friendly, Rosenfeld said.

Model Cleaners was started by Robert’s grandfather, Max Rosenfeld, in Woodbine in the early 1920s. It had expanded at one point with multiple dry cleaners and coin-operated laundries in the area, he said.

As the industry changed, so did the predominant solvent used for decades, perchloroethylene, also called perc, a chemical that some in the industry have been phasing out. Model Cleaners switched from perc to a solvent called DrySolv about five years ago.

“We’ve had some great success with it. We feel it’s just as aggressive as perc as it cleans, and it’s just as effective as perc for us,” Rosenfeld said.

The business also took up shoe repair in the past few years. It doesn’t do repairs onsite but sends footwear to an Ocean City cobbler.

“We don’t make a huge profit on it, but it brings another convenience. People want to make it a one-stop place rather than go to different places,” he said. “We think the added convenience has helped us.”

Rosenfeld, who said the business dry cleans about 7,000 garments a month, sees the industry staying stable.

“I’ve seen an improvement in the economic climate. I feel good for the dry cleaning and the Laundromat industry,” Rosenfeld said.

“(We) will make sure we stay on top of new technology and just keep trying to make things convenient for our customers and keep putting out quality work. I think if you do that, you can overcome an economic downturn,” he said.

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