Wite 60 Minute Cleaning Service

Originally at 2000 South 7th Street in Camden, The Wite 60 Minute Cleaning Service moved to 1177 Haddon Avenue in the 1960s. A Camden mainstay for many years, the White Brothers closed shop on August 3, 2003. 

Camden Courier-Post - July 9, 2003

For cleaners, 'time caught up with us'

Benjamin (left) and David White have been in the dry cleaning business since 1952. They bought their current building - a business duplex on Haddon Avenue in Camden - during the 1960s.
PARIS L. GRAY/Courier-Post

Changes in clothing, economy lead brothers to close Camden business

Courier-Post Staff
The dry cleaning business isn't what it used to be, and David White, 76, and his brother Benjamin, 75, are finally calling it quits.

After 57 years, the partners will close Wite 60 Minute Cleaning Service, a full-service dry cleaners in the 1100 block of Haddon Avenue near Kaighn.

David explained the spelling of "Wite" in the business name. "The `H' is silent, so we took it out," he said.

A handwritten sign on the front door announces the company's closing and thanks patrons for their loyalty. Customers have until Aug. 3 to pick up their final orders.

"Time caught up with us," said David of Atco, a tall, exuberant man who slaps the counter for emphasis.

The Whites enjoy chatting and exchanging pleasantries with each customer. Many of them are friends from the neighborhood who are surprised to learn that the Whites are wrapping it up.

It's a 95-degree day in the middle of the week, but the Rev. Thomas Payne, 65, is wearing a white dress shirt and tie. He walks in to pick up a suit and a pair of pants.

"I was shocked when I saw the sign," said Payne, pastor of the nearby Shiloh Sincerity and Truth Bible Church. "I went to school with their brothers. They have really good, dependable service," he said.

Such plaudits are music to the White brothers' ears. They've always been proud of their work, making sure white clothes return to their owners in sparkling condition and that bright colors don't fade.

"We're a quality house here," said David.

Customer Sandra Simmons of Lawnside passes a lot of dry cleaners on her way to Camden. But she drops off her clothes at Wite's when she comes to town to visit her mother and aunts.

"When you get good work, you keep coming back. You take the time, and don't mind paying for the gas," she said.

David and Benjamin White, brothers from a Camden family of 10 siblings, became partners in 1952.

After graduation from Camden High School in 1945, David aspired to become a doctor. But that changed when he learned about business from a former schoolteacher who operated a dry cleaning service as a sideline.

David began his own door-to-door dry cleaning route in Camden. The clothing was dropped off at a wholesaler where it was cleaned and then driven back to customers' homes.

Benjamin, who now lives in Cherry Hill, has fond memories of driving the route, an activity he calls "bob-tailing." "I liked being outside and the contact with people. I knew a lot of our customers and even their parents," he said.

The brothers went into partnership in 1952. They thought more money could be made if they cut out the wholesaler and did their own dry cleaning.

They opened shop in a Camden storefront in the early 1950s. Later, after a brief business foray into Woodbury Heights, the brothers moved their business back to its roots.

They purchased a business duplex on Haddon Avenue for $4,000 during the 1960s. The transaction had to be cash.

"Because we were minorities, no one would lend us money," David remembers.

The Whites became instant landlords, renting out one half of their new building to a restaurant.

Business boomed in the early years. But during the past eight years, there has been a steady decline in the number of garments customers bring for dry-cleaning. For environmental protection purposes, the Whites keep a journal of dry cleaning fluid they use. In 1996, they used 36 gallons. Today, their annual use is down to 12.

The brothers say the loss of jobs in Camden, the general state of the economy, and the movement of the city's population to the suburbs are all reasons for the decline.

"Even clothes are different today. We have to look at the label in every piece to make sure that it can be dry cleaned. So many of them are wash only," said Benjamin.

A business that started with a bang 57 years ago, has dwindled, observed David. None of his eight sons is interested in taking it over. The company is up for sale, but there are no firm offers so far.

"It's even hard to get decent, professional help. The area has changed. The people who can afford this service are moving out," David said.

Joan Honey, 57, has been employed with the Whites for 27 years. She's a presser, a hot job that requires standing. But Honey looked fresh on Tuesday when she arrived for work wearing a blue top with large white polka dots.

"They're nice people," Honey said of her employers. "It's like a big family." Honey plans to take time to "relax" after the store closes.

Retirement does not mean idleness for David White, however.

He plans to keep active in his church. He will garden and do landscaping. He also has another business, David W. White Realty of Atco.

"We do rentals, renovations, and restorations," said David, handing a visitor a business card.

What he will miss about the dry cleaning company is getting up and going to work everyday, he said.

"After 57 years, that's ingrained in you, a part of life," he said.