Kim Kim Dry Cleaners – Northside Chicago 1981

By Julia Allen

February 5, 2021

The trailer reminded me of our own family’s time of owning a dry cleaners on the Northside of Chicago, 1981-82, a brief time due to the fact it was my mother’s attempt at finding another income generation but proved to be too much to sustain. It was envisioned that my mother and halmuni could operate it during the morning and daytime, but with my assistance after school as the translator and intake help. My mother already had a full-time job at M&M Mars candy company in Oak Park, IL, a suburb we lived near where she had to be clocked in at 3:30 pm. I, along with my twin brother John, would get off from elementary school at 2:15 pm, take the Austin Ave bus by ourselves at age 9 to go a few miles north, and get off at Irving Park, the intersection where the dry cleaners was located.

I became an expert at taking orders quickly, writing down customers’ info on the receipts and letting my halmuni know what alterations were needed or if it was to be simply dry cleaned. I still remember the smell of the intake. We would close the biz around 8pm, and get home by 8:30-9pm, exhausted. At the dry cleaners, John and I spent time in the back room doing homework, watching tv, or just catching a break. It wasn’t so bad after school, but weekends were tough since we had to be there at 6am. I remember watching a lot of Spectreman, Ultraman and Godzilla.

Eventually, I learned to do simple alterations, to help my halmuni. But, there was this one time my brother got snarky with me while I was at the sewing machine. I was feeding thread into the needle, about to press the pedal with my foot, when I saw him come stand next to the machine, lean against it and act like he was going to mess with it. I paused, and looked up at him with a glaring look, to warn him not to touch the machine. I looked back to the needle when he reached over to turn the wheel of the sewing machine, impaling my finger with the needle. I yelped, blood already oozing. He took off. The shock set in, along with anger when I uncranked the wheel to get my finger out, and I ran after him… my halmuni yelling at us both. I won’t go into what happened between us, but when I got back to the sewing machine, I had to pull the thread out from my finger that was still in it. I can say for sure, my work ethic was established in these early years.