By Hank Tester

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – With more people working from home, dry cleaners aren’t exactly cleaning up these days.

Frank Lopez operates three dry-cleaning stores in west Miami-Dade. At his main store and plant at Coral Way and 78th Avenue, he used to run his machines five days a week, now he’s down to three.

“At the beginning, we were down 90 percent, now we are down 50 to 60 percent,” he said.

That has been the COVID-19 impact on the dry cleaning business nationwide. When the pandemic hit in March, and people sheltered in their homes, the bottom fell.

There were few dress shirts, suits, dresses, and office work attire to clean as offices closed. People worked from home in casual, washable clothes. To add to the dry cleaning woes, people were not going out and many are still not.

“There are no parties, no weddings, people don’t need much stuff to go out to a restaurant,” said Lopez. “Prom season, we are always busy. There were no proms this year.”

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Nationwide, in good times, the dry cleaning business generates $9.2-billion in revenue. There are, or were, 32,000 dry cleaning businesses in the U.S., now that number is dropping rather quickly.

“Thirty to forty percent of the dry cleaners in the U.A. are going down or are closed already. A lot more are going out of business,” said Lopez. “Here in Miami, I know five, six, seven dry cleaners who have closed, shut down.”

Lopez has been forced to reduce staff hours and stagger hours of operation to help keep expenses down. His two satellite operations on Bird Road are open, maintaining close to regular hours.

As for the future, Lopez is not optimistic.

“They are not going back to the office until January or February of next year,” he said.

When the pandemic subsides many in the workforce will continue at home by choice or by employer mandate, not a pretty picture for the dry dry cleaning industry. In a recent survey conducted by Cisco, the tech giant, 87 percent of remote workers said they want the option to keep working at home.