Bobby Dempsey, a fourth generation member of the laundry and dry cleaning family business, has described the horrific fire at the building last year, and the efforts to begin anew within the Dunmore community.
This community is defined by the families who live and work in it. For decades, the Dempsey family has been a large part of the community fabric of Dunmore. Some are doctors, some are lawyers, many are teachers, but perhaps the most recognizable aspect of the Dempsey family is know for something else: Laundry and dry cleaning.
In 1960, Thomas A. Dempsey left Mother’s Laundry on Blakely Street in Dunmore, and moved a few blocks north to build Fashionable Laundry. For many years, Dempsey’s Fashionable Laundry has provided laundry and dry cleaning services to thousands of people and hundreds of businesses in and around Northeast Pennsylvania. Now, in its fourth generation of ownership, the business continues to serve its community in a unique way.
Tom and Jack Dempsey took over the operation from their grandfather, and now work alongside Bobby Dempsey, Jack’s son, who represents the family’s fourth generation.
“It’s important to us. We take pride in our business, and try to convey that to our customers,” Bobby says. “We try to create an atmosphere in our storefront of family. We love to see customers interacting with each other while picking up their dry cleaning.
“Doing laundry and dry cleaning isn’t glamorous work,” young Dempsey notes. “It’s hard, it’s hot, and it takes a certain type of work ethic that we have followed our whole lives. We feel that iIf you get up early every day, and go to work, you’re ahead of the game”, and good things often find you.”
On a cold night in November of 2015, Bobby Dempsey was awoken to some of the worst news he could have ever imagined. A terrible fire struck the family business, and the damage was catastrophic. “I remember the knock on the door at 3 a.m., I remember putting my shoes on and saying to my wife, Jennifer,’ I am about to have the worst night of my life.’
“My first concern was for my customers. I wondered how would we be able to continue to serve them while we rebuilt the plant,”
The answer to that question came in the form of family. PJ and Kristen Dempsey, the owners of Dempsey Uniform and Linen Supply and Bobby’s cousins, called to find out how they could help. “We asked if they would be willing to do some work for us while we rebuilt. We operated our business out of their plant in Jessup for almost 5 months.
“If it werent for PJ and Kristen opening up their doors to us during this difficult time, who knows what we would have done? I’m gratetful I don’t have to think about that.”
Full of gratitude, Bobby also says, “We also owe a great deal to the Dunmore police and fire departments. Without their diligent work, this building might not be standing here today. I can recall pulling in on Thanksgiving morning and the police department had parked a cruiser in our parking lot. I recall the countless texts, emails, and phone calls from hundreds of people in the community. I remember thinking ‘Wow, this is a special place we live in.’”
While working at Dempsey Uniform, it was not uncommon for a dozen Dempsey cousins and friends to be there working side by side with the Fashionable staff.
“Our extended family really rose to the challenge,” explains Bobby. “We have an extremely tight- knit family, and they were there every night folding towels and feeding sheets and pillow cases. When one of us was down, we rallied behind them.”
Billy Nicholas from Spotless Cleaners also lent a helpful hand. “Billy was one of the first people here that next morning to see what he could do to help,” Bobby points out. “They processed our shirts for several months until we got over the hump, and kept our dry cleaning customers rolling. It’s unusual for a competitor to help out, but he didn’t hesitate, and we won’t forget his generosity. ”
The Mazza family in Carbondale also stepped in to ease some of the burden placed on the business. “The Mazza family are proud, loyal people, and we are grateful for all of their help,” Dempsey adds.
Since the fire, Fashionable Laundry has virtually overhauled their entire plant, which processes roughly 4 million pounds of laundry annually. “We had to replace everything. From washing and drying equipment to paper clips and everything in between. Tom, Dad, and I worked seven days a week, 10 hour days, to make sure we were able to put this place back together,” says Dempsey.
“There were times when I didn’t see my children for days at a time. It was certainly a grueling several months, but that hard work and dedication that I talked about showed up again. I kept saying to myself, just keep grinding. It will all work out. Today, the plant is back up in full operation.”
The Dempseys managed to retain all of their industrial laundry customers and most all of their nearly 4,000 dry cleaning customers. “Our customers’ loyalty means the world to us. They could have easily found another plant to do their work or clean their clothing, but they decided to stick with us, and that loyalty is deeply appreciated,” Bobby says.
Through a combination of hard work, community support, and of course a little luck, the Dempsey family was able to overcome a tragedy that may have shattered another business. Looking back on the last several months they have realized a few things: “There is nothing more important in life than family. When the chips are down, you realize who cares, and who is willing to go to bat for you.
“We live in an phenomenal community filled with people who are eager to give of themselves. Finally, it’s important every once in a while to take a step back from your daily routine, and smell the roses. Time flies, and you have to keep an eye on what’s really important.”