Paris Cleaners and Laundry began operation as a family run organization in October of 1903. At that time the company was known as Metropolitan Dry Cleaners and Steam Garment Dying Works. It was located at 113 S. Rose Street in Kalamazoo. In 1905 the plant where the clothes were cleaned burned down in a fire, and was moved to O’Neal Street.
The store, where orders were taken was moved to 242 W. Main which is now West Michigan. In 1939 the name was changed to Paris Cleaners and Dyers, and in 1953 to Paris Cleaners Inc. Since 1956 Paris Cleaners has operated in the facility on the corner of Crosstown Parkway and Westnedge Ave. in Kalamazoo. Wilbert & Elaine Weidenaar bought the business in 1991, and own it to this day.
In 2007 Paris Cleaners & Laundry joined Fabric Restoration Service Team, & relocated its production and administrative offices to a larger facility in South Portage on Vanderbilt. FRSTeam by Paris Cleaners specializes in garment restoration for the insurance and restoration industry. Most recently, Paris has purchased a new location at 5585 Gull Rd #105 in Kalamazoo.
The Kalamazoo Historic Preservation Commission Recognized
Wilbert and Elaine Weidenaar
for the outstanding rehabilitation of the Paris Cleaner’s neon sign, located at 508 W Crosstown Pkwy, and for the important contribution to the preservation of the historical character of Kalamazoo.
“We want to thank The Historical Preservation Committee for this Award of Merit. It is truly an honor to receive this award.” Paris Cleaners has been operating continuously since 1903. Our 1ststore was located in downtown Kalamazoo on O’Neil Street. Paris Cleaners moved its operation facility several times over the years. In 1956 the facility on Crosstown and Westnedge was built. Shortly after that time the sign that is the subject of this recognition was constructed and installed. Mr. Russell Bell was the owner at the time. He selected the distinctive purple color for the building as well as laying out the design for the sign. During those days the sign was operated continuously from sun down to sun rise. In 1971 the business was sold to a company from Grand Rapids. The sign was not properly cared for and fell into disrepair. In addition, over the years the sign was subject to vandalism as stones were thrown at the neon lights by people as they walked past. As a result the sign did not operate properly. In 1991 my wife Elaine & I purchased Paris Cleaners. My son Bill was 11 years old at the time. He would ask us to turn the sign on and asked why we did not operate the sign. We told him it was broken and we needed to get it repaired, but that we could not afford it. At the time we received several estimates to renovate the sign. The cost of the renovation was prohibitive, and there were many other production equipment items that needed repair instead. We operated parts of the sign over the years, but did not operate the complete sign due to the number of broken neon lights. Forming neon glass light tubes is truly a lost art. Signs today have electronic LED lighting, and are digitally controlled. Finding technicians who can properly form the glass tube letters, and then inject the correct metal dust combinations into the neon gas to obtain the desired color is a challenge. Six years ago our son Bill joined the business. It was basically his idea to get the sign restored. In 2010 my wife Elaine and our son Bill contacted a number of sign companies for estimates to restore the sign. Modern Neon Signs of Kalamazoo happened to have someone who still knew how to form glass letters, and work with neon to obtain the correct colors. The work began in April of 2011, and was completed in August of 2011.
Today, we operate the sign from about 6:00AM to 8:00AM and from 4:00PM to 7:00PM daily. The electrical cost for continuous operation is prohibitive, and in view of the power consumption is not environmentally friendly. Since the restoration we have received many comments from people who say they can remember the lights, the colors, and the dazzle. They remember how the sign would light the area around the building and part of Crosstown. The sign was an icon in that area of Kalamazoo. We get a certain satisfaction when we hear those comments. Restoration of significant icons such as this is an enjoyable experience. However, the cost of restoring and preserving these objects is extremely expensive. It is easy to tell someone else that something is of historic significance and should be preserved. Paying for that preservation and continually maintaining it is another issue. As a business owner it is a constant struggle to balance the cost of preserving and maintaining an historic icon against hiring more people, improving benefits, or purchasing equipment such as an alternative electronic sign that would be cheaper to operate. It is our hope that this sign would both help to increase our business and thereby allows us to provide employment, and also help to revitalize the area or Crosstown and Westnedge. We thank the Kalamazoo Historical Preservation Committee for this recognition. We are grateful to the Kalamazoo Gazette for the front page spread acknowledging the restoration of this sign. We are honored by the recognition we have received.”
- Wilbert Weidenaar