THE YOUNGSTOWN, VINDICATOR
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
BOARDMAN -- A half-century ago in Youngstown, folks rented their tuxedos and dropped off their dry cleaning with a first-generation Italian-American steel worker named Frank Rondinelli.
Rondinelli's small shop on the city's East Side is long gone, but his sons Gino and George have grown the family business to include five divisions and operations in four states -- all rooted in the dry cleaning and tux rental their father started with.
"We stick with what we know," said elder brother Gino Rondinelli. "It's a good way to keep things going in the right direction. Our goal is continuous growth."
The company's tuxedo rental business has tripled over the last five years, the brothers said, and its dry-cleaning volume has doubled in three years.
To those basic businesses they've added a retail clothing alteration chain and wholesale services in both dry cleaning and tuxedo rental.
Employment has grown from just six in the early 1980s to more than 120 today. In the spring, during the busy prom and wedding season, the work force climbs to 130.
In one week, the brothers estimate, they launder and press between 9,000 and 10,000 shirts and dry-clean between 10,000 and 12,000 pounds of clothing.
The owners kept the family name for their Rondinelli Tuxedo Rental stores, now with five stores in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys and one opened recently in the Pittsburgh area.
Their Dutchess Dry Cleaners chain is another longtime local business, now with six local shops in Mahoning and Trumbull counties and a new central dry-cleaning plant on Belmont Avenue in Youngstown.
Alterations Express, founded in 1994, has three local shops and one in western Pennsylvania. "We turned a side business into a full-service regular business," Gino Rondinelli said. The brothers got the idea for the alterations business from a small shop they saw in the Toledo area. They bought the shop's name, developed their own alteration system and set up a fee schedule based upon the job and how quickly the customer wants it finished -- a quick turn-around costs more.
The owners expect to open two more Alterations Express shops in the Pittsburgh area by year's end, and they believe the concept has unlimited growth potential. "It could be huge," Gino Rondinelli said with a wide grin.
Alterations Express is a registered franchise, but the brothers haven't sold franchise rights to anyone yet.
"We might like to keep it in the family," George Rondinelli said.
Wholesaling is the company's newest route to expansion.
The Rondinellis provide wholesale dry-cleaning services for 16 Giant Eagle stores in Ohio and Pennsylvania and recently purchased a wholesale tuxedo business in Boardman.
All the cleaning work for the local Dutchess facilities and for its wholesale business customers is done at the Belmont Avenue cleaning plant.
The tux wholesale business is growing steadily, renting tuxedos to other tux shops, bridal shops, menswear shops, tailors and costume shops across Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia.
The owners' father, Frank Rondinelli, the son of Italian immigrants, wanted to be his own boss when he opened his small dry-cleaning and tuxedo rental shop on Magnolia Street on Youngstown's East Side. He ran the shop when he wasn't working his full-time job at a local steel mill and paid a wholesale company to do the cleaning for him.
His customer base grew, and in the mid-1950s, Rondinelli opened a dry-cleaning plant on McGuffey Road and quit the mill job to concentrate on his business. Within 10 years he had three dry-cleaning stores and a tuxedo shop, all in Youngstown.
Rondinelli sold his dry-cleaning business after fire destroyed his cleaning plant in 1972, planning to focus on tuxedo rental. His son Gino joined him in business around that time, as well.
When George Rondinelli joined the business in the early 1980s, the family decided to return to dry cleaning. They founded a chain of by-the-pound dry-cleaning shops under the name Dutch Girl Cleaners and opened five stores in four years.
Later the owners switched to more traditional pricing and changed the name to Dutchess Dry Cleaners, but they kept one feature from the Dutch Girl days -- a 10 percent rate reduction for customers who pay in advance.
"Our customers love it," Gino Rondinelli said. "It's a tradition with us."