MEMPHIS, Tenn. — While businesses reopen and people emerge from their homes after the pandemic, dry cleaners are finding it harder to survive amid the new normal.

Charles Rowan, lead technical coordinator for the state of Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s dry cleaning program, said there are fewer than 200 registered dry cleaning facilities in Tennessee in 2022, said. State records show 39 registered dry cleaners in Shelby County.

He estimated that 10 years ago there were likely around 300 to 350.

Rowan thinks COVID is probably accelerating the decline, but the bigger reason may be long-term trends in the dry cleaning industry.

“People aren’t wearing clothing that requires dry cleaning,” he said.

Many facilities are wet washing clothes when possible. Consumers are realizing that dry cleaning, which relies on chemical solvents, is not good for the environment.

“Dry cleaning is a dirty, hot, nasty business,” Rowan said.

Many longtime family-owned operators are not being passed down to the next generation, Rowan said. The equipment needed is expensive to repair or replace, the pay is relatively low compared to other industries, and then there’s the work itself.

One of those local businesses is Drake Cleaners off Madison and Evergreen. We spoke to Mitch Jacobs at Drake Cleaners and lately, the business is seeing more and more new customers and larger amount of smaller orders.

One thing that made Drake’s Cleaners stand out among the crowd, they have diversified their services. Not only does this small business clean clothes, but they offer bridal services, alterations and repairs and have for years.

During the pandemic, Jacobs noted that many of his customers were first responders or medical personnel. With people switching back to suits from sweats, he’s seeing a greater variety of customers come into his store.

As a result of other cleaners closing, Drake’s Cleaners is seeing several of their competitor’s customers move to their location. With the reduced competition, this business is seeing renewed sales.