Jim Lee Laundry and Cleaners
Since opening on 67th Street in 1928, this laundry and cleaners has seen a good deal of evolution, and has always stayed in the hands of the same family – none of which were ever named Jim. Though it was originally called Chin’s Laundry after its initial owner, the shop became “Jim Lee Laundry and Cleaners” in response to the American mispronunciation of “Chin.”
Before the Second World War, the Lees lived inside the store, but from 1948-1960 they resided upstairs at No. 206. Around 1957, the family decided to move the store a few doors down into a space twice as large. By this time, they had moved their residence to Queens, where the current owner, David Lee, was raised with his three older siblings.
A third generation owner, David took Jim Lee’s over from his father, Eugene Lee. When I spoke to David in July of 2015, he told me, “This was supposed to be a temporary job for me, and now I have been at it for some twenty-five years.” He is certainly not complaining, however. “It has served its purpose,” he went on, “I raised a family and now my kids are lawyers.”
In the laundry and cleaners’ beginning years, East 67th street was frequented mainly by blue-collar workers – people who had immigrated from Ireland, Italy and Germany. But, with the rise of the luxurious Manhattan House on East 66th Street in the 1950s, the neighborhood took on an entirely different clientele, as well as a boost to property values. Jim Lee’s has cleaned the clothes of police and fire commissioners, politicians, and a “bunch of characters” over the years.
“Whatever it is that we are doing,” David explained, “I know for certain we have had a lot of satisfied customers.” As I walk the side streets of Manhattan, stories such as this one never cease to amaze me. Sadly, they are becoming rarer as businesses are being forced to vacate their homes after so many decades due to rising rents and demolitions of their buildings. Still, reminding me of a favorite children’s book, “The Little Engine That Could, this little side street business continues to puff along, repeating quietly, “I think I can, I think I can.”