A little over a year ago, a disastrous incident almost put Marcia and James
Harrington out of
business. Instead, the owners of A & A Dry Cleaners in Manchester, NH, used the hardship as an
impetus to become more modern and successful.
In December of 2012, the couple watched helplessly as their 37-year-old plant
apart all around them.
James Harrington was up front at the time. It happened so fast that he didn’t have time to
shout out a warning. Meanwhile, Marcia Harrington was in the production area
when a deafening
“The sound was like that of an
explosion,” she recalled. “I thought a
gas line blew up or something. A few
seconds later, I thought it was a major
earthquake because everything was
crashing down in here.”
It wasn’t a gas explosion or an
earthquake, however. It was a 72-
year-old customer accidentally driving
her car through the front plate glass
window of the store, and she didn’t
“She came in through the front
window. She pushed through the front
counter. She pushed through the
backdrop we have in the front,”
Harrington recalled. “She proceeded to
the back of the building—45 feet in all.
She angled left and crashed right into
our drycleaning machine.”
At the time, the building was only
inhabited by the Harringtons and two
“She just missed us all by inches, all
four of us,” Harrington noted, adding
that she had been standing in front of
a big, cast iron 1967 Martin utility
press which likely saved her.
“She pushed the front counter,
which pinned me in between the
counter and the press, but never
touched me. It stopped right in front of me. As she angled towards the back of
the building, she
got closer and closer to the lefthand side and our second presser actually had
to jump up on the
table of his press to avoid being hit by her. That was how close she was to him.”
Luckily, the accident did not happen early in the morning or late in the
afternoon during the
business’s peak times.
“If my husband or I had been standing at the front counter with a customer, it
been all over,” Harrington explained. “It just could have been so different. None of us were hurt
physically. The driver wasn’t hurt. I understand that she was on some type of medication. She
really shouldn’t have been driving.”
Harrington also felt fortunate that the car didn’t pierce the solvent tank of the drycleaning
machine and cause a spill.
Of course, that feeling of gratitude didn’t stop her from being overcome with stress and
anxiety when she finally caught her breath after the dust cleared.
“At that moment when the accident happened — after I realized everybody was still standing
— I remembered the first words out of my mouth were: ‘My business is destroyed’,” she said.
Harrington’s husband was ready to call it quits soon after, especially considering they
were nearing the official age of retirement.
“The older you get, the more something like that can affect you,” she admitted.
Yet, despite all of the obstacles in her path, Harrington was determined to
press on. Her
parents first started the business (originally a One Hour Martinizing franchise)
in 1967. It moved
to its current location 37 years ago, not long before Ace and Alice Mavrogeorge
renamed it as A
& A Dry Cleaners.
In order to keep it alive after the accident, however, it would require a
tremendous amount of
work. The rebuilding process would take over three months and cost about
While the Harringtons had ample insurance coverage to pay for the repairs, they
temporarily farm out clothes to be drycleaned at a competitor’s plant. Then, those garments
would be returned to A & A to be pressed.
“We just didn’t want to close our doors,” Harrington recalled.
Part of the reason the rebuilding process was so slow was because the couple
decided it was
the perfect time to make improvements to their business and one way they opted
to do that was
to invest in a new Solvon K4 cleaning machine.
They had to wait ten weeks for the machine to arrive from Italy, but they felt
it was worth it
because they would be able to tout its environmentally safe aspects as part of
They also created a new web site and revamped the front area to be sleeker and
aesthetically pleasing, which was especially nice after months of messy
“We were all boarded up. We couldn’t see outside for three months,” Harrington explained.
“The cleanup process was hard, but everything worked out in the end.”
When the renovations were finished, Harrington brought her father, now 92 and
Parkinson’s disease, in to see the final product.
“I brought him in here in his wheelchair,” she recalled. “I gave him the grand tour when we
were closed and he loved it.”
He’s not the only one. Customers have also expressed approval of the upgrades and
to the store.
“Business has improved. We’ve gotten a lot of new customers,” Harrington said. “Our business
has grown because of it.”