A Legacy Unfinished: The Story Of Jim Dandy (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

A Legacy Unfinished: The Story Of Jim Dandy

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:08
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today, we're talking legacies and technically speaking, the man we'll meet next has created a rather pristine legacy, spotless, stain-free even. Well, save for one thing...

MR. JIM DANDY

00:00:23
Yellow clay. Yellow clay.

SHEIR

00:00:26
Indeed, says Jim Dandy, owner of Jim Dandy Cleaners and Formal Wear, that pesky yellow clay just might be the toughest stain the Silver Spring resident has ever faced. And at this point in his rather extensive dry cleaning career...

DANDY

00:00:38
When did I start full time? It was in 19 -- what, '35, 1935.

SHEIR

00:00:45
He's faced quite a few.

DANDY

00:00:48
Hello, Jim Dandy.

SHEIR

00:00:50
I meet Jim inside his shop on Bonifant Street and, I guess, now is probably a good time to tell you his real name isn't Jim Dandy.

DANDY

00:00:57
And I'll give you my christened name, Samuel L. Myers.

SHEIR

00:01:00
So can I call you Samuel? Sam? Jim? Jim Dandy? What do people call you?

DANDY

00:01:03
Jim Dandy because business.

SHEIR

00:01:05
All right. And at the end of October, Jim will be turning 97 years old. Are you going to have a party?

DANDY

00:01:12
You know, I don't plan anything. I've had plenty of birthdays. If you have as many birthdays as I've had, you're okay with...

SHEIR

00:01:22
Jim started dry cleaning at his dad's business, back in his home state of South Carolina.

DANDY

00:01:26
Back in the late '20s, it was school principal, barber and decided he wanted to try dry cleaning. It was a popular thing back then. And I loved it because I said, oh boy, I can keep my clothes clean. And don't have to rerun it to that other dry cleaner.

SHEIR

00:01:43
And as Jim says, he went full time in 1935 after graduating high school, then he moved to Washington and in 1946, he went into business for himself, for a couple of reasons. First, he says he just had a knack for dry cleaning.

DANDY

00:01:56
I passed two national tests. They sent a stained garment and used the proper method to get the stain out according to the dry cleaners national association. And I got great certificates on this.

SHEIR

00:02:09
Do you have those certificates hanging up somewhere?

DANDY

00:02:12
No, that's been a long time ago, they faded. That is -- almost 50 years ago.

SHEIR

00:02:17
The second reason Jim Dandy struck out on his own, he couldn't get into the military during World War II.

DANDY

00:02:23
I wanted to volunteer and get into service, but I had too many children.

SHEIR

00:02:27
Three at the time.

DANDY

00:02:28
And the Colonel turned me down.

SHEIR

00:02:30
But when Jim was reclassified 1A, subject to draft call, while working for a dry cleaner in D.C....

DANDY

00:02:35
I said to the manager, Mr. Raffle (sp?) , I may be leaving anytime now. And he screamed I can't let you go. I said, how you going to stop me? Come with me to the draft board. And when he got through talking to the draft board people, they says dry cleaning is the 7th most decentual (sic) industry in America. And your manager just explained how important you are in this operation, therefore we need you at home.

SHEIR

00:03:05
So again, Jim's efforts were thwarted. But his hopes shot back up when he was summoned for a medical examination.

DANDY

00:03:12
At Walter Reed Hospital, I went through 12 doctors. In Baltimore, there were 13 doctors.

SHEIR

00:03:17
And when that 13th doctor asked Jim to stoop during the exam, Jim found, he couldn't.

DANDY

00:03:23
Because since childhood, I had an affliction. And he says -- wrote on my draft papers, rheumatism since childhood, unfit for military service. I said, all that trying, I'm trying to get in the -- I made a try. So that's when I decided to go in dry cleaning for myself.

SHEIR

00:03:44
Jim operated a couple of dry cleaning shops before opening the one on Bonifant in 1972.

DANDY

00:03:49
Then later, I got into a tuxedo rentals and then we also into gowns, wedding gowns, all types of gowns in 1995. So that's amazing business or it was.

SHEIR

00:04:03
And that's the thing, Jim says, business wise...

DANDY

00:04:05
When Clinton was in power, we had a hard time finding help.

SHEIR

00:04:08
Times sure have changed.

DANDY

00:04:11
Now the jobs are drying up and business is slowing down a lot.

SHEIR

00:04:16
He remembers the days when he'd rent heaps of gowns and tuxes to pretty sizeable wedding parties.

DANDY

00:04:21
We thought 12 was a crowd, then we got 14, then 18.

SHEIR

00:04:26
Granted in 2009, business got a little boost thanks to a pretty high profile event.

DANDY

00:04:31
Was the inauguration for President Obama. That was a big affair. I had lots and lots of men coming in for tuxedos.

SHEIR

00:04:40
But since then, things have been relatively quiet. Still, Jim isn't worried about the future of Jim Dandy Cleaners and Formal Wear, a future which, by the way -- you are going to be 97 next month. Are you ever going to retire? He definitely plans on being a part of...

DANDY

00:04:56
I'm too old to retire. You talk about retiring, that's the worst word I've ever heard in my life.

SHEIR

00:05:02
After all, Jim Dandy says, he still has plenty of living to do and plenty of loving. You know, people always look to people like you for wisdom and advice. You're very happy, it seems, and you're very healthy. So what's your secret?

DANDY

00:05:18
Oh, love. Love, it's a cure all. Send your love out. There's no stop sign. Nothing can stop that power of love.

SHEIR

00:05:28
Which is why, for Jim Dandy, dry cleaning is about more than just pressing clothes with machines, it's about connecting with and understanding people.

DANDY

00:05:37
See, people are clothes and clothes are people. They have the same personality as they're wearing. So if a persons in an accident and they shed blood, blood comes out easily. If it's a fight, the blood is more difficult to remove because it's hot blood. There's a lot to be learned and to know in dry cleaning.

SHEIR

00:05:55
And after 76 years in this business, Jim Dandy has certainly come to learn and know a lot, including, yes, the secret to wiping out those tricky yellow clay stains. All it takes is a little bit of a chemical known as erusticator and a whole lot of love. To see photos of Jim Dandy at his shop in Silver Spring, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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