By Claudie Benjamin
Almost 30 years ago, before coming from Seoul, Korea to New York, Mee Sook Jo (Michelle) was an artist. One of her framed metal works entitled “People” is hanging on a wall up front as you enter the dry-cleaning store she and her husband Hyung Nan Jo (Willi) own. She has created many works, some depicting groups of people, others are designs of flowers or portraits of women. Managing a shop doesn’t leave time for her to make art.
A month ago, Michelle and Willi moved to 252 West 72nd Street from the shop they had owned and managed for 16 years at 243 West 72nd Street. The challenge of hiked rent for their space prompted the move. The new larger shop provided an exciting change of environment and the opportunity to rename their business formerly known as “Silver Star Cleaners.”
Now, called Refresh, the inside of the shop has been revamped. The feel is classier and more polished with glossy cream paneled walls. Pots of orchids rest on pale marbleized countertops. The Refresh logo is artfully lettered on glass panels that are tastefully highlighted in navy and gold. The dressing room is spacious. There’s also a special glassed-in workstation.
BK Shin, Michelle’s brother, who retired from the dry-cleaning business, was on hand helping out one recent Friday morning. “This is the perfect dry cleaner,” said BK. Then, nodding at in-house tailor In Sung Koh, he noted that the long-time employee won a gold medal in an international competition for his work. Sure enough, in the storefront window is a mannequin wearing a tuxedo jacket, shirt and bow tie. And, hanging from a striped ribbon around the manikin’s neck is that very medal awarded in 1982.
BK said as many as 80 percent of Koreans in New York are in dry cleaning, drugstore and factory businesses in NYC are owned by Koreans.
Lifestyle challenges that had many people working from home, understandably resulted in less dry cleaning but now things are getting better every day. Michelle said many customers moved away during the Covid months and have not returned. But new generally younger customers have taken their place.
In addition to feeling enthusiastic about the newly decorated interior, Michelle and her family are particularly proud to have their own dry-cleaning machine within the shop that facilitates organic dry cleaning. BK explained that since 2010, laws limiting the use of toxic chemicals have increasingly been enforced. Of course, they carefully remove spots and stains that are pointed out by a customer. “But we check every garment all over to be sure we find every spot that needs special attention.”