IRVING PARK — Pert Cleaners had its front doors propped open to let in a cool breeze during a warm October afternoon. Owner Frank Lupo was in a black t-shirt and shorts, quickly moving between the rows of cleaned and pressed clothes hanging from racks and the front counter.
Every 10 minutes or so a customer, often on a first-name basis with Lupo, would pop into the dry cleaner and — regardless of whether they were picking up dry cleaning — ask him if what the sign on the door said was true. Was Pert really closing?
Pert, at 4213 W. Irving Park Rd., was opened by Lupo’s dad in 1952 and after operating the family business for 66 years, the family is calling it quits in November.
“I’m sad I’m leaving, but at the same time I’m getting pretty worn out,” Lupo said. “When you have a business, especially a cash business, you need to be there,” Lupo said. “My dad’s up in age and he’s tired too, even though he comes in still to help out a morning or two here and there. He’s been doing this his whole life. He loves it.”
Andy Green, one of the customers picking up an order, asked Lupo what he planned on doing after the shop closes.
As he worked the register Lupo told Green he might go on a big cross-country trip once the shop finishes its final set of cleanings by mid-November.
“I’m thinking of heading down south, with my truck and motorcycle on my trailer. Dropping the truck off with a friend and visiting for a few days,” Lupo said. “From there I think I’ll maybe hit the Gulf Coast and then go west. I’m thinking of taking my oldest motorcycle, a 1970 Moto Guzzi.”
In addition to being a dry cleaner, Pert is home to the Museum of Antique Fabric Care. A collection of vintage cleaning tools like washboards, coal fueled clothes irons, pedal operated sewing machines and other vintage items line its walls. Many of the items have been donated over the years by customers and friends.
Lupo announced the closure last week. No new drop offs were accepted after last Saturday, although customers keep coming in with clothes to drop off that Lupo politely declines.
He said as much as he likes the business and his customers, he’s ready for a new chapter in his life.
“The thing I’m most grateful for is my customers. I have the best people that come in here and that’s what kept me going. The people who came in here,” he said. “They’re just super cool people. Every day was just fun.”
Green’s lived in the Irving Park neighborhood for the past four years and has been a steady customer thanks to both the quality of service and relationship he’s built with Lupo and his father Tony Lupo.
“The first time I came here we were looking for a dry cleaner nearby and saw he had great reviews,” Green said. “Once you come in here once and you meet Frank and Tony, you always come back. They really care about their customers and it’s been nice having a friendly neighborhood dry cleaner. ”
Debby Fries, another neighbor, said the business goes above and beyond dry cleaning – it’s a truly great neighbor.
“[They’re] always hosting a toy drive box for the Old Irving Food Pantry at Christmas and volunteering to clean the Santa costume for free,” Fries said.
Andrea Guthmann, another neighbor, said Lupo and his father always knew how to make their customers, and their pets, feel special.
“I can tell you that it was my dog’s favorite business. I live only a few blocks away and always walk over to pick up my dry cleaning. Not only were they okay with me bringing my golden retriever in the shop, but they’d always have a dog treat behind the counter for him,” Guthmann said. “We’re all sad to see them go.”
Lupo is proud of the fact his father was able to raise and take care of his family thanks to how successful Pert has been. And as Lupo’s taken on more of the day to day responsibilities from his father over the years he’s kept the focus on getting to know his customers, which is why he thinks the business remains so popular.
“It’s a great business and a great institution,” Green said. “They welcomed us to the neighborhood and Frank’s been great. Whenever I had questions or needed recommendations I’d ask him.”
Lupo’s also thankful he’s been able to work alongside his father for so many years.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with dad and it’s been good man, it’s been good,” Lupo said.
And while Green, like so many other neighborhood customers, is sad to hear Pert is closing he understands Lupo’s decision to enjoy retirement.
“I’m jealous of his trip,” Green said. “But like I said to him, I’m sad that he’s leaving but it seems well deserved. I’m happy he gets to do something he really wants to do.”
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