“Come in, come in,” Lisa Nahabedian waves me inside enthusiastically. She’s sewing the seams on a large furniture puff. “Ask me what you want to know.”
There are neighborhood dry cleaners and neighborhood dry cleaners. The first time I went into Larchmont Cleaners, I was clutching a pair of my son’s favorite rose-pink shorts. The shorts needed fixing. Lisa refused to charge me. (“I love pink!” she had said.) Needless to say, I have been bringing all my clothes to her since.
Lisa emigrated to the U.S. in 1977 from Aleppo, the largest city in Syria that was once the country’s commercial hub and has now been devastated by the war. Up until four years ago Aleppo, Lisa says, has been “beautiful, open, filled with educated people.” She still has family, including a sister, in the city.
She has always loved everything to do with fabric, so a dry cleaners was a natural choice. “On my mother’s side, there are seven generations of us in the fabric business,” she explains. “And dry cleaners includes everything: fixing, dying, sewing, styling, crocheting…” Lisa started to run Larchmont Cleaners in 1998 (the cleaners has been here since 1975). “It was the first store I managed,” she says proudly. The entire family, including Lisa’s husband and two children, work in the business.
I watch Lisa finish up the puff and point out that, sadly, sewing is a dying art. The best I can do, for example, is sew a button. “Well,” Lisa says philosophically. “If you can sew that, you can do anything. But you’re right. Ten years from now there will be very few people doing this kind of work.”
The dry cleaning business is not without its share of high moments. “One of my customers once brought in a vest covered with silver coins. Can you imagine the weight? Probably more than 50 pounds. It took me a week to clean it. I was like a silversmith!” Someone else brought in a vintage jumper and wanted it to look new. “Even I can’t do that!” Lisa says.
A man comes into the shop and Lisa calls out to him, asking after his wife and kids. “My customers are not my customers, they are my family,” she says. “Without them, I would have never had this level of success.”
Larchmont Cleaners is in the shopping center on the west side of Larchmont Boulevard, north of Beverly Boulevard – 415 North Larchmont Boulevard.
Anya Grottel-Brown is a recent transplant to LA from the East Coast. Her series, The Newcomer Journals, is about all things local that are new, different and same.