Order of the Phoenix
Even after a century, Phoenix Cleaners continues to do business the old-fashioned way.
Todd Robinson, shown with his wife, Allison, is the third generation of his family to own Phoenix Cleaners, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2012.
(page 1 of 2)
Phoenix Cleaners is 100 years old this year and still a family-owned business passed down for generations.
It originated in 1912, when Ernest (Richard) Singleterry bought a cleaning establishment at North First and East Madison streets. It was called Mutt and Jeff Cleaners then, but he renamed it in the 1920s after a series of fires. He chose “Phoenix” because it kept rising from the ashes like the firebird of legend.
Singleterry moved the business to North Denver Avenue at West Archer Street and married Thelma Robinson, who had come to work as a counter girl. That began the line of succession, which went from Thelma to her brother, Ralph, to his son, Gary, to his son, Todd, who runs Phoenix Cleaners today.
Its current location is an icon on 18th Street, between South Cincinnati and Boston avenues, with hundreds of regular customers, some who have been patrons for 50 years.
“We’ve got customers that did business with my grandfather,” Todd says. “Some have just grown up with us.”
Many who once lived in the Maple Ridge neighborhood but moved to the suburbs or new subdivisions still come back to Phoenix.
“We get customers from other cities,” Todd says, “Bartlesville, Sapulpa, Claremore.”
Phoenix also gets a lot of business from police officers and sheriff’s deputies. That’s because at one time Singleterry was victimized with a series of holdups. He decided to offer police officers a discount to increase police presence.
“It’s a tradition now,” Todd says, adding, “We haven’t been held up in a long time.”
Phoenix’s staff members are noted for knowing their customers personally. A neighborhood resident recalls that he hadn’t been in for more than a year, “but they called me by name.”
“Phoenix is pretty much awesome in every way,” one Tulsa newcomer wrote on the user-review website Yelp, marveling that counter staff knew who the customer was after only a few visits.
That’s just another tradition.
“We don’t have a fancy computer system,” Todd says. “The girls just learn it. … That’s just the way it is, even with new girls.
“A lot of people are surprised by that.”