Business is not what it once was at Mel-Burn Laundry and Dry Cleaning Service.
“One time I used to have 13 employees working here,” said Pete Naik, who bought the business in 1984.
Now there is only one who works just one day a week helping press clothes.
Dry cleaning used to be done every day of the week, but now, the boiler and compressor are started only on Wednesdays.
In the early days, Naik counted $300,000 worth of orders annually. Now, that figure is down to $30,000.
He and his wife Nayana don’t receive salaries.
According to Naik, the business was started in 1945 by a consortium of businessmen seeking to cash in on a big contract to handle all of the dry cleaning for the thousands of Marines and sailors at the then newly opened Marine Corps base. The dry cleaners is believed to be the oldest or one of the oldest continuous businesses in Havelock.
“This is a landmark in Havelock,” Naik said.
The 5,000 square-foot brick building at 244 East Main St., is largely idle now.
“It’s completely dead,” said Naik.
For years, the majority of dry cleaning Mel-Burn did came from the base, but in 2003, Naik said the Marine Corps changed camouflage uniforms from ones that had to be dry cleaned to ones that could be washed and dried.
Before the switch, the business cleaned thousands of uniforms, and now “we’re lucky if we get one set in two months,” Naik said.
Naik estimates that one tenth of one percent of his business is now from the military.
Other civilian societal changes have also hurt business, he said.
“People don’t dress as well as they used to,” Naik said.
Naik said the N.C. Department of Transportation median project through the middle of Havelock may be the final straw for the business. Before, customers could make a direct turn into the Mel-Burn parking lot from either direction. Now, there is a barrier dividing the east-west traffic.
“We’ve got a one-way business,” Naik said. “Lots of people lost business because of this.”
Despite the downturn in business, Naik, who is 68, keeps coming in to work each day.
“It’s my building. I don’t have rent. I keep a low overhead,” he said.
Naik said he still loves Havelock.
“It’s a very good community, very peaceful,” he said.
And, his regular customers return time and again.
“They come back whether I do good job or no good job,” Naik said.