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'We don't have customers, we have friends'

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Betty McQueen, left, and her daughter-in-law Jo McQueen, with some freshly dry-cleaned and laundered clothing at Convenient Cleaners. Betty and her late husband Bert started their dry-cleaning businesses in New Castle in 1957. Their late son Dale and his wife, Jo, have owned Convenient Cleaners in more recent years.
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Jo McQueen and Betty McQueen have enjoyed their customers at Convenient Cleaners but March 31 is the last day open for the business.

By DONNA CRONK - dcronk@thecouriertimes.com

The McQueen family has cleaned some notable laundry through the years.

They’ve laundered clothing for the original Colonel Sanders, actor George Lindsey (Mayberry’s Goober Pyle), and cleaned the suit that Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan wore on David Letterman’s show.

While those jobs bring fond memories, for Convenient Cleaners co-founder, Betty McQueen, service to them was no different than that offered to regular customers who were the family’s bread-and-butter.

“That customer that came in weekly was more loyal than some famous person coming in dropping off a suit,” she says.

In fact, it’s the people and the relationships combined with the pride of service that kept the family’s cleaning business going since 1957.

But times change, and the McQueen family is closing the dry cleaners at 403 S. Main on Saturday, March 31. Customers have until then to pick up their clothing. Anything remaining after that date will be donated to charity. They are accepting clothes to clean until March 16.


Bert and Betty McQueen moved to New Castle in 1957 to start a dry cleaning business at 1601 Broad St. Damage from a nearby fire forced them to relocate to 1501 Broad St. in 1963. Their business was successful which led them to start the Convenient One-Hour Cleaners in a one-time gas station at the current location in 1969.

Bert and Betty worked together at their businesses until 1996 when Bert became ill and passed on.

Their son Dale then bought it. He married Jo in 2010 and together the two of them have owned and operated the business. Jo has worked there for 22 years. Dale passed away last November and two years before that, Jo battled and recovered from cancer. She is cancer-free, but says the business takes a team and with Dale gone, the time has come to close.

Her mother-in-law gets it. “One (person) can’t actually run it. It’s a lot of maintenance and responsibility,” says Betty. “Bert and I always ran it as a pair. Dale and Jo always ran it as a pair.”

Jo said of working with her spouse in the business, “It just worked. Dale always said we were joined at the hip.”

Bert and Betty raised their two kids, Dale and Doris (now Gallagher) of Washington state while owning the businesses. Betty’s grandchildren are Jacob and Caitlyn with one great-grandson, Daniel, and one on the way. There are also Jo’s daughter, Heather, and Heather’s son, Chase.

Changes in the business

Betty said that at one time, New Castle had 10 dry cleaners in operation. She concedes that the dry-cleaning business has changed for a variety of reasons. Those range from the fact that people don’t dress up as they used to, imported goods that are not well-made are not meant for dry-cleaning and fabrics such as polyester. Society has changed to where people don’t even necessarily dress up for church or funerals anymore.

Easter used to be the busiest season of all for dry-cleaners. At one time, Betty says their business ran two shifts a day to keep up with the demand. Other busy times were graduations and weddings.

“Everybody had a suit, even the poorest of poor,” Betty recalls. It was important to the owners to see that no matter the cost or quality of clothing, it be cared for as well as the wealthy customer.

Betty reflects on the specials they ran in The Courier-Times every week. She showed examples of old ads such as two garments for $1.98 or suits, $1.30 and the second suit 35 cents in the 1960s. Prices had to raise when through the years, the prices of chemicals to clean them shot up.

She likes how even though she is retired, people around town see her and will still say, “You’re the cleaning lady. Makes me feel good.”

Both women say that above all, they want to thank all their former employees and customers.

Then Jo tells a story about how when she was off work battling cancer, Dale came home and told her how customers asked about her and he told her she has a large fan base. Then he added, “You know what, we don’t have customers, we have friends.”