Dry cleaners for Broadway persevere during COVID-19

Bruce and Sarah Barish, owners of Ernest Winzer Cleaners
Photo courtesy Jason Cohen

For more than a century Ernest Winzer Cleaners has been the official dry cleaner for Broadway. But, never has it faced adversity as it does now.

Located at 1828 Cedar Ave., it opened in 1908 and specializes in dry cleaning of theatrical costumes, mascots, wedding gowns, leather, suede, fur cleaning, rugs, upholstery and draperies. Run by Bruce Barish, whose grandfather Al bought it from the original owner Ernest Winzer, Barish took the reins in 2000, when his dad Miles retired.

Barish and his wife Sarah sat down with the Bronx Times to chat about how they are barely staying afloat during the pandemic.

“We’re falling into debt like most businesses out there that are trying to survive,” he said. “I knew in the beginning you couldn’t compare this to anything. I expected it to into the summer. I certainly didn’t expect it to go into the next summer.”

They worked through snowstorms, 9/11 and protests, but never experienced anything like the past nine months.

Many of his employees have been with them for decades and unfortunately, they had to let some go and or reduce their hours.

The two floor facility has about 30 employees, four vans making pickups and drop-offs and Mondays and Thursday are extremely busy. Today, it is a ghost town.

“There’s no sense of normalcy,” Barish said.

Barish knows many in the industry, but none have been impacted like his company.

However, he has kept his routine. He still wakes up at 2 a.m. and goes to work at 5 a.m.

Barish began coming to Winzer at 7-years-old with his dad and instantly fell in love with it. The colorful costumes caught his eye and he knew that was where he would work one day. As soon as he got out of college in 1986 he joined and never left.

“It’s a cool place because of what we do,” he explained. “My grandfather knew this is what I wanted to do. He never got to see it.”

In addition to Broadway, they have cleaned Snoopy and the Jeffrey the Giraffe costume from the Toys “R” Us.

Their dedication and hard work was recognized in 2018 when the Barishs’ were the recipients of a Tony award. Barish noted the first place he went with it was his grandfather’s grave.

“Getting that Tony award honor we knew it was on the backs of everyone who worked before us,” he stressed.

As he looks to the summer when Broadway is supposed to reopen, Barish feels business will not be booming. According to Barish, only one or two shows run because they need to see how the virus is and if it is still spreading rapidly.

“I think it will take years for a business like ours to get back to where it was” he commented. “I hope I’m wrong.”

The Barishs’ with their Tony award.Courtesy of the Barishs’