After 106 years in Iowa City, Varsity Cleaners is closing.
“Obviously COVID is one of the deciding factors here,” owner Dave Geasland told Little Village. “It’s totally destroyed the dry cleaning business, and the dry cleaning business had already been in decline for the last 10 years.”
Indeed, dry cleaners across the country and around the world have been closing in massive numbers. The need for dry cleaning has dropped sharply during the pandemic as people worked from home and formal events were canceled.
“Our income basically got cut in half right away, and it really hasn’t rebounded,” Geasland said.
Things were very different 20 years ago, when he bought Varsity from its previous owners, Bill and Shirley Roberts.
“When I took over I think there were probably 300 dry cleaners in Iowa; you’d be lucky if there are 40 to 50 left now,” he said.
Geasland wasn’t a newcomer when he took over Varsity Cleaners, having worked for the business while he was still a student.
“I was the delivery guy for five years,” he recalled. “My brother was the delivery guy before that and a buddy of mine was the delivery guy before that.”
After finishing college, Geasland taught seventh grade math at Northwest Junior High School in Coralville for two years before buying Varsity Cleaners, which was already an Iowa City institution at its South Gilbert Street location.
“I took it over in its prime,” he said. “I liked the work, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the people who worked for me.”
A typed note posted on the door at Varsity announced its closing. In the note, Geasland explains he’s “thankful for the patronage of so many community members who I’ve gotten to know over the last two decades.”
“I’m also grateful for my faithful staff who have been with me through floods, tornadoes, and the Covid-19 pandemic,” he wrote. Kelly Jorgensen, for example, has worked at Varsity longer than Geasland had.
But the inability to hire new staff members, a problem many small businesses have faced in the last year, was also a factor leading to Geasland’s decision to close.
“I’ve been working seven days a week for two years now and not seeing any money to pay myself,” he said, adding that he’s spoken to many other dry cleaners around Iowa who are in the same position.
“One of the big factors in my decision was just personal happiness,” he said. “I’m not happy doing this anymore.”
Friday, Jan. 14 will be the last day Varsity will be accepting clothes for dry cleaning. Customers will have until Jan. 21 to pick up their clothes.
The coin-operated laundromat in the building will remain open after the dry cleaners closes, indefinitely.
“We’re going to leave that open for now. I’ll see if it’s worth keeping open, but if it’s just covering the cost of utilities, it won’t be worth it.”
Geasland said he has not made any decisions about his own future plans yet, although he’s considering several possibilities.
“Right now,” he said, “I’m pretty much just trying to figure out how to take care of this place.”
Here is the full text of Geasland’s note to customers:
It is with great personal disappointment and regret that I announce the closing of Varsity Cleaners effective January 21st, 2022. This 106 year-old institution in Iowa City has had an amazing run, including my proprietorship over the last 20 years. We will continue to offer cleaning services until January 14th and remain open until January 21st to allow customers to pick up their clothes. The self-service laundromat will remain open until further notice.
I am thankful for the patronage of so many community members who I’ve gotten to know over the past two decades. I’m also thankful for my faithful staff who have been with me through floods, tornadoes, and the Covid-19 pandemic.
For those who would like a referral for service, Rick at Nature’s Way is a local cleaner who has become a friend of mine over the years. He has a drop off location at 717 Mormon Trek Blvd. Another option would be City Wide Cleaners in Cedar Rapids.
My family and I thank you and wish you abundant blessings in 2022.