excellent seamstress, worked side-by-side hand tailoring suits and lived in a small room in the back of the shop. Hard work and determination met with success, and the couple was able to move to the up-and-coming suburbs of West Hartford, opening a new shop on the corner of Farmington Avenue and Trout Brook. It was here in Hartford that Gassner and Mellman met and became friends.
During the 1920’s, dry cleaning was becoming a more integral part of tailoring and garment care. So it was that, in March of 1925, Gassner, Mellman, and a third friend, Jacob Ritvoe, joined together. The trio incorporated French Dye Works at 935 Farmington Avenue.
Dyeing garments black or navy blue was highly popular at the time, and dyeing large batches of garments was a major part of the French Dye Works’ business. However, as time elapsed and fashions changed, customers began requesting specialty colors like orange, magenta, and other brighter hues. The time required to dye individual garments the specifically requested colors, coupled with the growing difficulty of sourcing special dyes from Germany during World War II, soon made the dyeing business uneconomical, and it slowly became an obsolete art form.
At the same time, the founders were building French’s reputation for excellent quality and service. At the time, each pair of men’s cuffed trousers was routinely un-tacked, brushed out, cleaned, turned inside-out to hand press all seams, and re-hemmed. While the quality was unmatched, the time and care taken with each piece made financial success difficult to achieve.
It was into this changing market and culture of high expectations that Harry Gassner, Morris’ son entered the business in 1940. Six years later, Mellman’s son Sidney, an honors graduate in chemical engineering from Resselaer Polytechnic Institute joined French after his duty as captain in the US Air Force. In 1948, the elder Mellman died, leaving his share of the business to his son. In 1951, Harry Gassner took Morris’ share of the business.
Now in its second generation, the young Gassner and Mellman worked to change French into a retail shop, buying out Jacob Ritvoe in 1951. Working sixteen to eighteen hour days, seven days a week, the new partners struggled to bring the business out of debt. Frances Gassner and Sylvia Mellman, the partners’ wives, brought the partners dinner each night, and took care of bookkeeping, accounting, and anything else to aid their husbands, often staying until midnight or later to tackle whatever needed to be accomplished.
Through it all, French’s original ideas of producing the finest work possible for each and every customer has remained the number one priority. Great pride and care, along with the challenge of perfectionism, have combined to make French famous.
The long-running Gassner/Mellman partnerships came to an end in 1972, when Harry Gassner left the business due to medical reasons. His share of French was bought by Sidney Mellman. Sidney was joined in 1980 by his daughter Jane, who was renowned for bringing her dog to the shop, where he would sit and greet customers while receiving treats and gifts. After several years, Jane left the business to her father, who ran it alone until retiring in 1987.
Before retiring, Mellman approached Michael Gassner, son of his later partner Harry, to take over the business. Michael had grown up in the business as a child, helping out when needed and becoming familiar with the “back end”, doing mechanical improvements and maintaining equipment, In fact, Michael commonly known as “Mickey”, was a brilliant inventor and mechanic. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t fix. It was Mickey who with his two way radio business put French Cleaners into the history books as the first Radio Dispatched Dry-Cleaning Delivery service. Conveniently, at the time Sidney approached him, Mickey had his own businesses, “Gassner Electric” and “General Communications”, located in the back of the French Cleaners’ building.
When offered the chance to take over French Cleaners by Sidney, Mickey, in turn, contacted his son-in-law, Phi Cote. A chef by trade, Phil was then Director of Food Services for Northeast Utilities. Mickey asked Phil if he was interested in being a managing partner in French Cleaners. Phil decided to make the change in professions, and went from creating stains to removing them.
Mickey and Phil took over French Cleaners in 1987, working together under Sidney to learn the tricks of the trade. The art of dry cleaning was quickly picked up by Phil, and he, along with Mickey, worked to bring French Cleaners to where it is today.
Together, Mickey and Phil worked to replace equipment, modernize the facility, and turn French Cleaners into a dry cleaning showplace, all while maintaining the impeccable quality and service for which French had become famous. French Cleaners has been written about inside and outside of the trade for the innovations to the industry, knowledge of handling specialty and fine garments and has been recognized as one of “America’s Best Cleaners”.
The French Cleaners | 935 Farmington Avenue, West Hartford, CT | 860.233.3736 | Email Us
For over 100 years, French Cleaners has built a reputation of impeccable quality and service as a member of the Hartford business community. Originally named French Dye Works, the company was founded in 1911 by Morris Gassner. Located on Pavillion Street in Hartford, CT, the dye works specialized in the cleaning and dyeing of individual garments.
While Gassner was establishing himself in Hartford, Bejamin Mellman was escaping religious persecution in Russia. After a stint in the sweat shops of New York, Mellman moved his family to Hartford, where he opened a small tailoring shop on Queen Street. Mellman and his wife, an
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