Friday, June 30, 2000
Batsakes casualty of city planning
Family-owned dry cleaner a local institution
Spartans live to work. The Batsakes are Spartans. "We don't miss work for nothing,'' said dry cleaner George Batsakes. Except when Cincinnati, the town that can't think straight,
makes a muddle of downtown development. New stores receive handsome
subsidies from City Hall while old firms get the shaft.
Such unfair treatment leaves the owners of J&G Batsakes Dry Cleaners with no choice. They're going out of business.
For 93 years, three generations of this family, so proud of its Greek heritage and work ethic, have done business at the corner of Sixth and Walnut.
Owners George and Jim Batsakes and George's son, Peter.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
First they peddled fruit. Then they shined shoes, sold hats and
Batsakes (pronounced BAT-sakes) dry cleaners
became a Cincinnati institution. Through hard work and long hours, the Batsakes earned a reputation for excellence and expertise as they established a tradition of service and
Today, that tradition ends.
After they lock their door at 7 p.m. Batsakes' co-owners, brothers
George and Jim Batsakes - along with George's son, Peter - will not take
in any more Cincinnatians' clothes that are stained, spotted and rumpled
yarning yearning to be cleaned and pressed.
They'll dry-clean what's left in their store. Then they'll close.
Another Cincinnati institution gone. Another victim of poor city
On Wednesday, I wrote a column about the city not having a
comprehensive plan for developing downtown. With no plan, the city loses
its identity and its character. Confusion reigns.
In the column, I facetiously called for changing Cincinnati's
nickname from "The Queen City of the West'' to "The Town That Can't Think Straight.''
I never dreamed Batsakes would be the next casualty of the city's
confusion. I knew the city wanted the futuristic Contemporary Arts Center
building to go where Batsakes stands. Negotiations were still in
progress. There was hope Batsakes would move elsewhere downtown.
Word of the dry cleaners' plan to close dashed that hope. Gus
Miller's Batsakes Hat Shop will stay open until the building is sold.
Early Thursday morning, as George Batsakes sorted piles of garments,
I asked him about closing his family business.
"You're going to hear 100 versions of 100 stories about why we are
closing,'' he said over the hiss of a steam gun.
His son, Peter, was using the gun to remove spots from a pair of linen
Next to Peter, his Uncle Jim was working on a badly stained blouse.
They were in the middle of the dry cleaners' morning shift. It was
7:30 a.m. George had started at 4:30 a.m.
"I tell you, we are Spartans,'' he said. ""We live to work.''
They work with broken bones. When George broke his wrist, he had part
of the cast cut away so he could hold the steam gun.
They work through pain and throughout the day. Among the three
Batsakes, they have put in 126 years of 12-hour shifts and 70-hour weeks.
George gave these reasons for closing:
"We fought it with lawsuits. We just made the lawyers rich.
"I'm tired,'' he added. "My brother, Jim, is tired, too. I'm 70.
"I need a hip replacement. I haven't had a vacation in three
None of the Batsakes would say anything bad about the way they have
been treated by the city.
They didn't have to. The numbers say it all.
The city offered Batsakes $20,000 - the standard amount - to help
find a new location.
The Batsakes need "at least $200,000 to move our equipment and buy
new pieces,'' Peter said as he shot another jet of steam.
Nordstrom is getting $26 million from City Hall to come to town.
Walgreens got $3.7 million from the city when a promised location
Batsakes gets a $20,000 offer.
Shabby treatment for a Cincinnati institution.
For 93 years, Batsakes stayed in Cincinnati, paid its taxes, brought
customers to town.
"Every day we have 200-300 people walk through this door,'' Peter
The money can be found to pay off Walgreens or bring in a Nordstrom
store that has never done a thing for Cincinnati except hold out its hand
for millions in corporate welfare.
But for Batsakes, it's $20,000. Take it or leave it.
George told me of one relocation plan proposed by Downtown Cincinnati Inc. Batsakes would have a plant in Over-the-Rhine and a storefront drop-off spot downtown.
"But we'd be paying rent, which we don't do now,'' George said,
"and we wouldn't be in the heart of downtown.''
Today, George's heart is not in downtown.
After he gets his hip replaced and takes a little vacation - "I'm
just going to stay home and rest'' - he's considering going back to
"I might open a little dry cleaners up the road,'' he said. His
shop would be in Western Hills, near his home and far, far away from the
corner of Sixth and Walnut.
"I've had enough,'' George said, "of downtown.''
Who can blame him.
Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at (513) 768-8379; fax 768-8340.
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