June 24, 2010

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After longtime owner dies, Launderama passes to a new generation

The late Margaret McGettigan

For more than 40 years, friends, neighbors and patrons of the Chestnut Hill Launderama, 7841 Germantown Ave., would come in, not only to have their dry cleaning done, but also to talk to its owner Margaret McGettigan.

“My mother was the kind of person where if you come in, you were here for a long time,” Margaret’s daughter Mary Lee said. Margaret died at the age of 81 on June 5 after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. Mary Lee now runs the store, easing the transition for the Launderama’s patrons, some of them third-generation customers and all of them friends.

“She would hold court here every Saturday,” Mary Lee said as she described the personal rapport her mother had with each customer.

Margaret started working at the store after her husband, Edward, survived a heart attack at 30. Edward had done electrical work for the store, and soon Margaret had found her life’s work. Years later, the previous owners were ready to retire and offered it to Margaret.

“I think it was a combination of really being here,” Mary Lee said. “She liked the people who came in, and I think she thought if she didn’t hop on it, she was going to miss out.”

At 17, Margaret attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and obtained an apprenticeship with Bornot French Dry Cleaners, she told the Local in 1986. “There you have it. From age 17 to 58 [at the time] I’ve been in this business. I like what I do. I like the people and I like Chestnut Hill.

“This is where I was born and this is where I stay. Sure, I love to paint, and I still do – oils and watercolors. I have them at home … but you can’t make a living, painting.”

So Margaret bought the Launderama. Mary Lee remembers a time when her mother and other women working at the store restored wedding gowns. An article was published in Summer Bride, a Montgomery Newspapers supplement, in 2001 that highlighted Margaret’s unique touch.

More recently, however, Mary Lee said the gowns have been sent out, although Margaret would still take on christening gowns.

In her own life, Mary Lee describes Margaret as a homebody, enjoying simple things like cooking and gossip magazines, which she chatted about with her grandchild Allie. Margaret worked right up until she was diagnosed in March of 2008. Prior to that, not even a broken hip could slow her down.

Never having driven a car, Margaret would get a ride from her husband (and after he died, her daughter Jennie) to work every morning, six days a week. She would open the store from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., although she would stay until about 6 p.m. every day working on orders and other things around the store.

“She had her faith and believed she was here to do work, and her seventh day she could do everything for her house,” said, May Lee including a Sunday dinner for her whole family. No one ever missed a Sunday unless they were sick, according to Mary Lee.

Mary Lee and Jennie never had a thought about closing the store. While Margaret was sick, going back to work was always something she aspired to. She lived in her house in Wyndmoor, which she loved, up until the final three weeks of her life.

Flowers, letters of condolence and Mass cards are still being received, Mary Lee said. According to her, it was the patrons who did not read about Margaret’s death and found out after the funeral, who took the news the hardest.

The tradition continues, as Mary Lee hasn’t missed a beat filling her mother’s shoes. She interacts with the customers and knows them on a personal level, and – best of all – she enjoys it.

“My customers are wonderful,” she said. “I’m very fortunate to have them still coming in.”

Forty-plus years later – even after Margaret’s passing – the people of Chestnut Hill and surrounding area still come to the Launderama for service and a friendly face, just as many of their parents and grandparents did before them.



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