Cleaners will make room for green space

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Strickland Cleaners to be demolished.

City council members voted unanimously Tuesday Oct. 6 authorizing the city manager to submit a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Community Infrastructure application for the demolition of Strickland Dixie Dry Cleaners on Hampton Street.

The grant money and 10% matching funds will be used to purchase the property and demolish the building. Due to the age of the building and damage after the April 13 tornado, the city is concerned about the property being a safety hazard — but they are more interested in the location of the old dry cleaners.

The concrete cinder block front office connects to a large warehouse in front of the Walterboro water tower. The dry cleaners building is over 80 years old and cannot be repaired, but its proximity to the water tower makes the lot ideal to open space for those who want to visit the iconic 133-foot-tall monument, built in 1915.

Glen Strickland and his wife Dean opened the dry cleaning service in 1956, located at 419 Hampton Street, but leased the property and building from Dorothy Guess. He purchased the business from C. F. “Buddy” Beach, and at the time, it was just one of two dry cleaners operating in the county before the days of permanent press. Eventually, the company had five trucks running at once to pick up and deliver clothes throughout the Lowcountry. Dean ran the business while Glen served as the county auditor for 12 years.

After working in the dry cleaning business for 30 years, Glen and Dean Strickland decided to retire and turn it over to their nephew Robert “Mickey” Strickland and his wife Linda in 1987.

Mickey was one of 13 nephews of Glen and Dean who worked on and off at the cleaners. Mickey was nine years old when his Uncle Glen purchased the cleaners, and he spent a lot of time there helping out and playing with his friend Riddick Fields, a deaf mute youngster who had worked part time at the cleaners since he was 13. Fields began working for Beach to help out his impoverished family during the Great Depression, and because he knew so much about the business, he stayed on when the Stricklands took over. Glen and Dean paid for his rent and medication, and Fields became devoted and irreplaceable to the entire Strickland family — and Mickey especially.

Working at the cleaners part time to pay for college, Mickey chose the dry cleaning career mainly because of his experiences with Riddick Fields. He later became a counselor with the South Carolina Department of Vocational Rehabilitation on April 7, 1971.  Over the next 30 years, Mickey helped disabled citizens of Colleton and Dorchester Counties find employment.  In 1999 he received the “Counselor of the Year” award. But Mickey continued working with Fields at the cleaners when he had time. He often said that if a garment came in missing a tag at the cleaners, they would hand it to Fields, who would know what chemicals to use just by feeling the material.

Years later, Mickey continued to take care of Fields until he passed away in 1992.

In 1998, the Stricklands purchased the building and property from Guess and continued operating the dry cleaning business. But then they retired and turned the business over for a while to Mickey’s brother Charles. But Charles, too, retired — and by then the building was so old it needed major repairs.

For a while, Mickey worked with the city to sell and repurpose the property by getting a CDBG grant to demolish the buildings. But the timing wasn’t right.

Then, on July 27, 2020, Mickey passed away at his home in Walterboro under the care of Amedisys Hospice after a brief battle with cancer. He was 72.

It is amazing that a small business could impact the lives of so many Colletonians, and it’s sad when the old buildings have to be torn down to make room for progress. But sometimes it is a safety issue, and while the old concrete structure might be demolished and the subsequent cinder blocks and machinery taken to the landfill, nothing can rid Colleton county residents of the memories of a beneficial business, and the wonderful people who worked for and served the customers of the Beach and Strickland family cleaners for over five decades.

“I am happy that something hopefully will be done with the property,” said Linda Strickland. “An environmental study was done to prepare for the possible sale, and Mickey and I wanted the city to have the space and maybe do something special with it since it sits next to the famous water tower. I won’t miss the old building. The thought of beautifying the area around the water tower makes me happy.”

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