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Lamothe Cleaners owner Tom Lamothe, of Antioch, looks for a customer's clothes at his business in Antioch, Calif., on Saturday, July 19, 2014. Tom is a third-generation dry cleaner. Tom's grandfather opened a laundry business in Pleasanton in the early 1900's. Lamothe Cleaners will be closing in July after being opened since 1957 at the same location in Antioch. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

ANTIOCH -- The front door chime of the Antioch dry cleaning business sounded repeatedly as customers collected their orders for the last time.

"We're closing," owner Tom Lamothe told one woman who had stopped in simply to say hello.

"No you're not -- you're lyin'!" La Verne Glasper exclaimed, startled by the news.

"I'm devastated!"

Lamothe smiled.

"I'm gonna miss you, La Verne."

And so go the farewells at Lamothe Cleaners, which will close its doors Friday after 107 years of laundering and pressing.

Located in the Grocery Outlet shopping center at East 18th and A streets, the business has been struggling, Lamothe, 61, said.

Although he bought software several years ago to help market his services and began offering free pickup and delivery, sales continued their downward slide.

Lamothe attributes the situation not only to the local economy but also to changes he says are affecting commercial cleaners everywhere: Wash-and-wear clothes.

The clothing has become more popular, in part because of the savings they represent but also because they now include slacks and jackets, which appeals to a public that's embracing increasingly casual workplace attire.

Couple that trend with routinely working six days and about 65 hours a week, and Lamothe decided he'd had enough.

"It just became too much," he said.


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Dozens of rusted flatirons are on display just inside the entrance, some of which belonged to Lamothe's grandmother, including the one now serving as a doorstop.

On the wall is a faded black-and-white photograph of his grandfather standing next to the horse and carriage he used to collect and deliver laundry when he first established the business in Pleasanton in 1907.

Lamothe's father, who introduced the process of dry cleaning with petroleum-based solvents, poses with the company van in a second picture taken after the shop moved to Rio Vista.

The family remained in the tiny Delta town from 1927 to 1959 when the wooden building burned to the ground, at which point Tom Lamothe's father turned his attention to the business he'd started in Antioch.

He launched that shop in 1957 with the opening of Eastwood Shopping Center and it's the only original tenant left.

After the elder Lamothe sold the cleaners to his son in 1987, Tom expanded its presence with a second store in Antioch followed by ones in Rio Vista and Discovery Bay.

Over the past 27 years Lamothe has marked the milestones in customers' lives with the clothes they'd bring him.

"I would see the same child's baptism gown, then their Communion gown and their wedding dress," he said.

"It made me feel a part of their lives."

Orders have ranged to the unusual as well: Lamothe once cleaned a man's collection of Civil War uniforms along with a buffalo skin blanket.

He's also spruced up vintage wedding gowns for Antioch's historical society, and on behalf of Pittsburg's, he gingerly vacuumed silk maps that were made for American servicemen during World War II, the fabric printed with a layout of the terrain to help them escape if they found themselves behind enemy lines.

Regular customers have included a handful of Antioch's mayors, school board members, and Tom Torlakson before he become the state Superintendent of Schools.

Lamothe has taken in the uniforms of high school marching bands, football teams and county deputy sheriffs.

He's cleaned clerics' vestments and altar cloths, tuxedos for student choral groups, and the clothes of those to be buried.

Lamothe's looking forward to having more time for himself and his girlfriend, although he's casting around for other job opportunities.

"It's going to be a working retirement," he said.

And after such a long run, the end of this chapter is bittersweet.

"I'll definitely miss the people who came in," Lamothe said.

"That was my enjoyment."

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee