Arrow Fabricare Services celebrates 100 years of cleaning clothes

Catalina Martinez (left) and Tammy Hill press shirts at Arrow Fabricare Services, 3838 Troost Ave., which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Catalina Martinez (left) and Tammy Hill press shirts at Arrow Fabricare Services, 3838 Troost Ave., which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The Kansas City Star

Clothes come all the way from Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills to Troost Avenue in Kansas City for serious, specialized cleaning.

Whether the garment is a $5,000 dress, a $10,000 fur or a $25,000 one-of-a-kind handmade leather piece, “I would trust Arrow with any piece at any price,” said Brad Smith, manager for the Roberto Cavalli store, a high-end design shop in Los Angeles.

Arrow is Arrow Fabricare Services, a family-owned dry cleaning business founded by Joseph Gershon in 1914 and currently owned by his grandson Bruce Gershon, 59.

On Saturday, about 145 past and present Arrow employees will gather at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City to celebrate the company’s 100 years of cleaning clothes, repairing leather, preserving wedding gowns, laundering shirts, removing stains, mending tears and, all in all, making garments look their best.

Smith said he discovered Arrow about 15 years ago and has sent clothes to the company an average of every three months since then.

“Local companies say no,” Smith explained about the response from Los Angeles area dry cleaners asked to remove an ink stain from leather or to refurbish leather pants.

Smith’s contact at Arrow is Bruce Gershon’s older sister, Susie Shatz, 64, the customer service manager.

“There is such an array of colors now,” Shatz said. “We have a special way we match the exact color — it’s definitely an art.”

Arrow ships about 80 packages a day of leather cleaning and repairs to stores and individuals all over the country. The company also cleans and presses 110 shirts an hour, stores 1,000 furs annually and preserves 2,500 wedding gowns a year and guarantees them against yellowing for life.

“Arrow is a one-stop dry cleaner,” said Clyde McQueen, president and chief executive officer of the Full Employment Council in Kansas City. “They do dry cleaning, alterations and storage.”

McQueen, a customer for about 25 years, said he turned to Arrow because “other places were shrinking up my clothes.”

Although Arrow offers residential route service, McQueen chooses instead to take his clothes in. About 15 percent of the company’s business is over the counter.

While Bruce Gershon owns and operates the business, his father, Bob Gershon, still comes in every morning except Saturday.

Joseph Gershon started the business as a tailor. He planned to call the business Gershon Tailors, but a cousin who sold the Arrow brand of men’s shirts door to door downtown recommended the name Arrow instead as a reflection of the quality of Gershon’s tailoring.

The company has grown from six employees in 1974, when Bruce Gershon joined the family business, to more than 80 now. The original location was at 4301 Troost Ave. The company moved to the current site at 3838 Troost Ave. in 1945.

In 2011, Arrow moved three divisions to Kansas City, Kan. — Arrow Fire and Water Restoration Drycleaning, Arrow Drapery and Blanc Plume Fine French Laundry.

“There’s nobody better than Arrow,” said Jim Surges, owner of Hide Side Corner Store, a resort retailer in Fish Creek, Wis.

Surges said he has been relying on Arrow for leather and fur alterations and repairs for about 20 years. The store has the Arrow Fabricare Services label sewn into all its American- and Italian-made leather coats and jackets so people know whom to call about care: “A quality coat deserves quality care.”

Arrow’s leather cleaning services achieved national attention in 2001 on the “Regis and Kelly” morning show when a brown leather jacket worn by Joy Philbin was stained with a sauce during a cooking demonstration.

Regis Philbin discussed the incident later, explaining how the jacket was sent overnight to Kansas City for cleaning. On the air later in the week, Philbin opened the package with the newly cleaned jacket from Arrow and showed viewers how expertly the stain had been removed.

Over the years, the company has distinguished itself by earning certifications and designations such as the Seal of Approval Award of Excellence from the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute International.

“It is one of the highest awards,” said Mary Scalco, chief executive officer of the institute in Laurel, Md.

Earning the award involves passing a series of tests, removing different kinds of stains, achieving a high level of cleaning and demonstrating exceptional customer service.

Although the Gershons have acquired a reputation for treating garments with excellent care, they were asked in the mid-1990s to handle apparel without such care. Polo Ralph Lauren was preparing to introduce a vintage-look clothing line, RRL, and the company wanted the Gershons to scruff up jeans, belts, shirts, vests and boots to give an aged appearance.

“I know how to make things look new, not how to look old,” Bruce Gershon recalled saying to the request.

But he learned. Leather garments were tumbled with rocks, for example, for a well-worn look. During the year Gershon worked with the clothing manufacturer, Arrow operated 24 hours a day with three shifts and aged 475,000 pairs of jeans in addition to other vintage-look apparel. The system was later patented and sold.

All these stories and more are compiled in a book of the company’s history that Arrow plans to give employees on Saturday for the anniversary celebration.

Words to live by

These expectations for Arrow employees are posted on the wall and are printed on cards given to all employees when they are hired:

▪ Be ready for the day with a positive attitude.

▪ Act cheerful and you will become cheerful.

▪ Say “please” and “thank you” — Smile!

▪ Greet each other when passing.

▪ Respect others, practice patience and seek harmony.

▪ Develop an attitude of helpfulness toward co-workers.

▪ Be careful to not repeat gossip.

▪ Accept others and their different ways; we’re all different. Withhold judgment.

▪ Learn to laugh at yourself.

▪ Be familiar with the rules in the handbook so there will be fewer misunderstandings.