Farewell to Lustre Cleaners

While door to long-time Hill business closes, another door opens down the street

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Lustre Owner Brian Grozbean checks the fit of a tuxedo selected by Michael Collins, Chief of Staff for Representative John Lewis (D-GA) for a gala later that evening.

For almost a hundred years there has been a Lustre Cleaners tidying, folding and pressing District garments to perfection. Starting out back in 1918, Lustre Cleaners expanded to commercial services and to men’s formal wear in the late seventies through 1980s.

Three generations of the Grozbean family have contributed to the economic fabric of the city.

But on August 19th, after nearly one hundred years on the Hill, Lustre Cleaners closed the doors to what was their first and also their last store front dry-cleaning business.

The dry cleaning shop was established in 1918, before two of the three buildings in the Library of Congress complex. It was opened before both the John Adams Building in 1939 and the James Madison Building in 1971. Brian’s grandfather could watch through the front windows as streetcars rolled down the Pennsylvania Avenue tracks, and his father watched as buses took their place.

Owner Brian Grozbean said that the business, formerly located at 311 Pennsylvania Ave. SE., had great customers, many of whom had become like family. Over the past half-century the cleaners had served Senators, Congress people, staffers and families in the neighborhood.

Lustre Cleaners was founded by Brian’s grandfather, Bernard Grozbean, who had traveled with his uncle from Russia to DC in 1902. When Bernard’s uncle moved on to Richmond, Virginia, twelve-year-old Bernard elected to stay in the nation’s capital, working odd jobs before gaining employment as a pants-presser. “He worked his way up, and opened his own business,” Brian said. “You could do that back then.”

In 1946, Bernard Grozbean passed away suddenly, only reaching his early fifties. His son Samuel (Brian’s father) came home from his World War II service aboard a submarine with the U.S. Navy to help his brother, already working at the dry cleaners, continue the business. “He didn’t plan to join in the business, but he had no choice,” said Grozbean of his father.

Brian Grozbean also joined his own brother in the business, but only after he completed college in 1968. Together with his brother Steven, Brian Grozbean expanded Lustre Cleaners’ operations, opening storefronts in McLean Gardens, Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle and Branch Avenue at Pennsylvania in addition to the original Capitol Hill location. The business also expanded to commercial services for District hotels.

“People came from all over to Lustre then,” Brian said. “We always had a good reputation. We were known for our quality of service.”

Lustre did all of its cleaning on-site, allowing greater control over the process and ensuring quality of service. Over the years, the Capitol Hill cleaners pressed razor-sharp creases into the trousers of some well-known politicians, including Tip O’Neill, Tom Foley, John Boehner and John Lewis “— a really good customer,” says Brian.

For decades, the business thrived. “The eighties and nineties were really the peak of dry cleaning,” Grozbean said. “But there isn’t as much need for it today.”

Grozbean is surrounded by crisp jackets in the Lustre Formal Wear shop (225 Pennsylvania Ave. SE).

The city, the economy and the fashion all changed, Grozbean said, adding that taxes, rent and labor costs all increased at the same time just as the demand for dry-cleaning decreased, making it difficult to off-set the costs of doing business.

So Grozbean made the difficult decision to close the cleaners, merging his commercial operations with a Virginia company that continues to offer services to regional hotels. The Dupont Circle Lustre Cleaners continues to operate under different ownership.

But the Grozbeans continue to offer an extra shine to residents of the Hill under the Lustre name.

In the late 1970s, Grozbean started Lustre Formal Wear. Over the last 15 years, he says, the business has thrived and grown. Lustre Formal Wear is based just down the street from the old Lustre Cleaners storefront, at 225 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, where it shares a space with Boutique on the Hill.

“The two businesses really complement one another,” says Grozbean.

Lustre carries garments by Ikebehar, Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors, to name a few. They rent ‘everything tuxedo,’ from suits, shoes and shirts to bow ties for men and boys as young as three years old.

The Boutique on the Hill offers that extra polish for the ladies. The boutique offers jewelry by local artisans, fine work-wear by Canadian Designer Joseph Ribkoff, and soon, casual sportswear by Cartise, in addition to the ‘Rack in the Back’ which offers on-trend items at popular prices.

Brian Grozbean poses with Dorian Bean-Lipscombe, owner of Boutique on the Hill (225 Pennsylvania Ave. SE). “The two businesses really complement one another,” says Grozbean.

Boutique on the Hill owner Dorian Bean-Lipscombe says that working with Brian has been as comfortable a fit as the tailored clothing they sell. “We spend a lot of time laughing. We have a great time,” she said.

Grozbean says that Lustre Formal Wear serves locals as well as out-of-town guests who might need to rent a tuxedo or a simple suit while they are in the District, serving clients from Australia, New Zealand and frequently from Hawaii.

“They rarely wear suits in Hawaii,” Grozbean says, “so when they come here, it’s nice they can rent them.”

Lustre also furnishes formal suits for weddings – both for events taking place in the District and for destination weddings. In the past they have fitted for up to two hundred tuxedos for a single event. “We are very particular about our measurements,” says Grozbean.

“When you’re outfitting two hundred, you want to get every one right.”

Grozbean says that Delano, the tailor that has been with Lustre for twenty-five years, is still tailoring tuxedos and suits for Lustre Formal. Lustre continues to offer full tailoring services for any garments that a client might need fitted, whether purchased in-house or brought from home.

Last week, Michael Collins, Chief of Staff for Representative John Lewis (D-GA), collected his tuxedo for a gala affair in connection with the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference. He said that he has been a regular customer of Lustre Formal Wear for many years, and has come to value their suggestions with respect to formal wear.

“I really trust him,” Collins says as Grozbean checks the fit of his jacket.

“It always turns out terrific.”