What's the Deal With: Vienna Cleaners?

This century-old small business perseveres despite challenges
February 10, 2022 at 10:56 a.m.
Vienna Cleaners employees Melissa Baier and Shantel Roddey work behind the counter on Feb. 3.
Vienna Cleaners employees Melissa Baier and Shantel Roddey work behind the counter on Feb. 3. (Victoria Corkum/Cascadia Daily News)

Staff Reporter

Have you heard that the long-standing Vienna Cleaners in downtown Bellingham is closing for good? You might've even heard this from the owner himself. 

The 112-year-old business has faced misfortune following the pandemic, a devastating fire next door in 2019 and incessant graffiti, owner Brian Richards said. 

While speaking with customers, Richards lately has warned the cleaners may close soon, bogged down by the slew of issues. 

But in an interview, Richards said he's changed his mind. Vienna Cleaners isn't going anywhere, despite the troubles.

Vienna Cleaners suffered $600,000 worth of damages after the neighboring businesses in the Clark Feed and Seed Building burned in 2019. To make matters worse, the absence of the nearby building caused the water line entering the cleaners to freeze.

Beyond that, Vienna was down to three employees from a former 11 because of the pandemic. That's why hours have fluctuated, and the business has closed at 2 p.m. 

“We just can't hire anybody because we're not making enough money,” Richards said. 

photo  An old photo of the current Vienna Cleaners location from 1950 sits on the counter. Vienna Cleaners has been in Bellingham for 112 years. (Victoria Corkum/Cascadia Daily News)  

Vienna Cleaners has lost many of its regulars because of old age or retirement, and can’t get basic supplies like oil, hangers or solvent.

They’ve also been pestered with repeated graffiti tags to the face and sides of the building. Richards devised a plan, however, and hired Shawn Cass, a local graffiti artist responsible for many works in town, to paint the outside of his store. Apparently, the sprayers don’t touch Cass’ work, Richards said. 

But Vienna Cleaners has already made it through one pandemic, having been around during the Spanish Flu of 1918, and Richards is determined to do it again. The long legacy of Vienna Cleaners won't end here.

“We don't want to go anywhere,” Richards said. “I want to keep my employees employed. We're going to hang on as long as I can.”

WTD runs on Wednesdays. Have a suggestion for a "What's the Deal With?" inquiry? Email us at newstips@cascadiadaily.com
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