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December 1, 2013

White Star Laundry closing after 75 years

GREENVILLE — Soon, the last shirts will have been starched and folded and the last suits will have been pressed.

White Star Laundry, a downtown Greenville institution for some 75 years, is closing its doors later this month.

Owner Harold Robinson, 87, said there is no telling how many items he’s cleaned since starting work at the business in November 1946.

“Millions, millions, millions,” Robinson said.

White Star Laundry stopped accepting items on Nov. 27 and Robinson said the doors will close for good around Dec. 15.

Robinson had time last week, before starting another round of pick-ups and deliveries, to reflect on almost seven decades in the laundry business.

“I started working here as a bundle boy,” he recalled. “It was a car hop is what it amounted to.”

The building at 2705 Stonewall Street has been in use since the late 1930s. Robinson said one side was a cleaners operated by Phillips and Butler and then Clyde Martin, while the other half contained the offices of the former Greenville Messenger newspaper.

Robinson said Martin stayed with the company until around 1941.

“He sold it to a guy named Ford,” Robinson said. “Orvill Thomas bought it out in 1942.”

Thomas hired Robinson, who began to learn all of the business as he rose through the ranks.

Thomas then sold the company to Edgar Callahan in 1950. Robinson said Callahan was better known around town by the nickname “Soapy.”

“They gave him that name at the Lions Club,” Robinson said. “They made me manager a year after they came here.”

Robinson has a special place in his heart for Callahan.

“He was like a father to me,” he said. “He was a real good man. I was well taken care of while they were here.”

Robinson bought the laundry from Callahan in 1977.

“We shook hands on the deal, he went home and the next day he died,” Robinson noted.

Robinson said during his tenure, he’s had to remove raccoon poop from a coat and was able to get out fresh blood stains from a brand new suit.

In the 1950s and 1960s, there were four laundries and more than a dozen dry cleaners operating in Greenville.

Robinson explained the installation of washers and dryers in homes and the shift away from more formal business attire has meant less business to go around.

“Now there’s only going to be two,” Robinson said.

He remembered when the laundry purchased a new, state-of-the-art extractor about the same time he was hired in 1946.

“I sold it for junk just the other day,” Robinson said.

Robinson spends most of his time on the road these days, with his linen supply business for commercial and home customers.

“I’m still on the move,” he said. “I drive about 600 miles a week.”

Patty Terry began working for Robinson three years ago and said the first thing you notice is the smell from the dry cleaning chemicals.

“He said you get used to it,” Terry said of Robinson’s advice. “Now it doesn’t even bother me.”

Terry said Robinson will also be missed by his regular customers who came to him any time they needed a button sewn back on or a rip mended.

“As soon as they’ve got a spot, they know Harold can get it out,” Terry said.

Robinson will also miss being on the clock.

“It’s a sad deal. I hate to do it,” he said. “I never did hate to come to work. I haven’t missed, probably, 15 days of work in 67 years.”

Robinson’s first wife, Wanda, with whom they had three children, passed away in 1987. He later wed Billie Ferguson and they have been married for some 25 years.

Robinson said his future plans revolve around spending time with Billie.

“I’m going to take care of my wife and we’ll travel,” he said. “That’s a 24 hour job.”

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