By Eliot Duke
Dunn Daily Record
DUNN – Wil Chandler felt so relaxed during his May vacation that he spent much of it sleeping on the beach.
Having spent the past 31 years running Glamorama, the oldest dry cleaner in Dunn, Chandler couldn’t find much time for vacations, often working seven days a week from sun up to sun down.
After battling the economic impact left behind from the COVID-19 pandemic, Chandler felt the time had come to do something else.
“The opportunity came up and I just decided that’s what I was going to do,” Chandler said. “Its been the right time for the last couple years.”
Chandler worked on the manufacturing side of dry cleaning for two decades before the opportunity to purchase Glamorama presented itself in 1990. Chandler transitioned Glamorama into a new century and continued providing the same services that made the business a Dunn staple well before he arrived.
When COVID-19 struck, Glamorama found itself directly in the pandemic’s cross-hairs. Business plummeted as people worked from home or not at all. Dry cleaners across the country felt the sting of teleworking, closed schools and shuttered churches.
“Covid came in and killed the dry cleaning business as well as other businesses,” said Chandler. “Easter is our largest time of the year and last year I was off 90%. I had 20-25 school teachers I would see twice a week who were now at home. A lot of businessmen told me they are sitting at home in their underwear doing the same thing for the state who still haven’t been called back. I’ve got EPA people who have not had to go back to work so they’re not dressing.”
Glamorama closed for several weeks in the midst of the pandemic and when the time came to open back up, Chandler faced a new problem. Increased unemployment benefits and stimulus money offered some people the chance to make more money than they could working. Chandler offered his employees the choice of coming back to work or staying home and collecting government benefits, risking the chance Glamorama might not be there when they’re ready to return.
“They were getting $600 a week for nothing plus a $300 in unemployment,” Chandler said. “They had never made that kind of money. I was at home making nothing. I didn’t draw a check or anything. We came back part-time and all but one came back. I told them I could lock the doors and they could draw until its over with, but they wouldn’t have a job because I wouldn’t be back. They wanted to work. They got 15 to 20 hours a week and I paid them for 40. Nobody missed a paycheck.”
As business slowly shifted back towards normal in 2021, Chandler maintained his desire to slow his professional life down, but wanted to do so under the right circumstances.
In stepped Yvonne and Danielle Johnson.
The mother-daughter duo reached out to Chandler in the spring about acquiring Glamorama, and the passing of the torch began. The Johnsons took over Glamorama on May 1.
“It was time for me to move on and it was just a godsend that they came in and were interested,” said Chandler. “They came in and were willing to keep all my employees and let them run it. They are tickled to death.”
Rebuilding after COVID-19 didn’t scare off the Johnsons. Danielle Johnson embraced the challenge, seeing it as an opportunity to take the business in new directions.
“It made me want to do it even more,” Danielle Johnson said. “I know it sounds crazy due to the fact that it hurt a lot of small businesses, but I really wanted to see this grow. Wil has done a great job with the business and I wanted something I could grow. I felt like I could find new ways to grow the business and reach other people in the new norm now.”
Danielle Johnson left behind a corporate career and returned to her farming roots. With her mother retiring soon, the two wanted something to do together, and Glamorama offered the ideal situation.
“It just kind of happened,” said Danielle Johnson. “We were interested in doing a business together and that’s how it all started. It’s people-oriented and that’s what I really enjoy. I love working with people and this gives me an opportunity to work with the public as well.”
In an effort to build off the dry cleaner’s previous successes, Danielle Johnson said the business is not only getting a mini-makeover inside and out, but a rebranding to expand services. Renamed Glamorama Cleaners of Dunn, Danielle said the business plans to implement an online component in a few weeks as well as offering pickup and delivery service beginning in the fall.
Somethings, however, won’t be changing.
“You can’t change the sign,” Danielle Johnson said. “It’s iconic. We’re just upgrading the store. Everybody seems really excited.”
With his days now open, Chandler said he plans to visit former employees and remain active in his other business ventures, just not as much.
“I don’t have to be anywhere at 6 in the morning anymore,” said Chandler. “I’ll miss the people. I’ve got some of the best customers in the world. I’m here just because of the people I’ve met and I’m going to miss them.”
After not taking a real vacation for decades, Chandler discovered what he had been missing, but the time had come to pass the torch.