If you were scouting locations for a dry-cleaning business, the corner of 47th Street and DuBois Boulevard might not immediately come to mind. Situated across the street from a limestone quarry on the Brookfield side of an industrial corridor that runs from First Avenue to Eberly Avenue, it’s not what you’d call obvious.
But, something must be right about that spot because on June 5, Swan Cleaners at 9500 47th St. celebrated its 75th birthday, making it surely one of the oldest if not the oldest continually operating business in Brookfield.
Greg and Melanie Kosar, the brother-sister team who have run the business since their father Dennis Kosar’s death in 1994, marked the occasion with a ribbon cutting outside the front door, surrounded by family and well-wishers.
The job of cutting the ribbon itself, however, was saved for 95-year-old Mary Phillips, who began working at Swan Cleaners as a teenager and would end up working there until she was 89 years old, when a hip fracture put her out of commission.
“She always said, ‘She’d rather work than clean the house,” said Greg Kosar.
According to Melanie Kosar, customers would get a kick out of Phillips’ response to their bringing in an unusual item – a lampshade, a piece of furniture – to clean.
“She always used to say to customers, ‘If it doesn’t move, we’ll clean it,’” Melanie said. “She is a character. She tells it like it is. We’re more than employees, we’re family.”
Phillips was also known for bringing in cakes she’d baked – for birthdays, or for no reason at all. Phillips essentially was part of the Kosar family from the time Dennis Kosar purchased the business from the original owners, Jerry Schefer and Eugene Nadar, in 1987, because the business has been the place where the two families have intersected since the 1940s.
Back in 2018, Phillips told the Landmark that she began working at Swan Cleaners after her marriage to Maurice Phillips, whose uncle owned the business.
The Kosar family lived nearby on Blanchan Avenue, and long before buying the dry cleaners, Dennis Kosar worked at Swan Cleaners as a boy, as did Greg and Melanie’s uncle and their grandmother.
The family’s connection with Phillips goes back almost to the year the business opened in 1946.
“My grandmother took Mary to get her driver’s license when she turned of age,” Melanie said. “Mary has told me that.”
Dennis Kosar went on to get a college degree and, according to Greg Kosar, worked for Aramark for many years. But in his 50s, Dennis was thinking about a change.
“I’ll never forget, he calls me and says, ‘Greg, I want to get out of corporate business,’ and he goes, ‘You know I used to work at a cleaners and I actually really liked it.”
Greg and Melanie, who were in their 20s at the time, might have been wondering what the attraction was, but their father was convinced and took the plunge.
“The thing that he liked was he interacted with people,” Greg said. “He just thought this was going to be a great fit from the customer service aspect and he met a lot of great people, and in fact we see a lot of their kids.”
About seven years into the new venture, however, Dennis Kosar died and his children were faced with the decision of carrying on running the business or getting out. They decided to stay.
“I liked working with my family,” said Melanie, whose own son worked at the cleaners before heading off to college and graduate school. “I get to see my brother every day, I got to see my dad every day. That made it special for me.”
Greg’s daughter, Delaney, also works at the business during the summer, keeping the family aspect of the business as important a part as it was when it was founded.
While the pandemic did impact business – with people working from home there was less need for crisply pressed shirts and trousers or dry-cleaned skirts – you wouldn’t have known it late last week, with racks loaded with clothes hanging sheathed in plastic.
Swan Cleaners’ signature pickup and delivery service, which shifted from four days and week to just two during the pandemic, is still a draw for customers and was originally an important reason why longtime customer Skip Nemecek did business there.
But, it’s not the reason the LaGrange resident has remained a customer for two decades.
“I learned by coming in that I can actually have a little conversation and have that friendship,” said Nemecek, who popped in on the morning of June 11 to pick up some clothes. “I haven’t done home delivery probably for six, seven years. I enjoy my weekly meeting.”