Trump Cleaners Inc.

Ken Kalfus

My father used to be a dry cleaner. In 1964, after selling a small store in Nassau County, Long Island, he hoped to open something new. Working with a broker, he found an excellent location in a shopping centre in an apartment complex that was going up in Brooklyn, right off Neptune Avenue, a few blocks from Coney Island. In those years Coney Island was being superseded by more daring, more modern theme parks, the beach was unclean and the perception that New York had become unsafe was amplified in the outer boroughs. The new middle-income construction, subsidised by the State of New York, promised to anchor the neighbourhood.

The seven-building complex was called Trump Village. My father’s store was being incorporated as Trump Cleaners. It would be the first and only dry cleaner’s in the shopping centre. In addition to the rent stipulated in the lease, Fred Trump demanded $10,000 up front. The sum would have to be paid in non-taxable cash and handled discreetly. Closing the deal, somewhat anxious about carrying so much dough, my dad took it to the property office in a shoebox, which thus entered family folklore, with folklore's attendant unreliability. (‘Hey, watch what you write!’ my 95-year-old father now says. ‘I don’t want to go to jail.’) He handed it to Fred Trump’s ‘money man’ (he isn’t sure now whether Fred Trump was in the room), and in return received the key to the empty storefront.

It was by no means a bad deal, except for the tax-collecting authorities struggling to keep New York City financially afloat. After my father installed the fixtures and Secomatic equipment, Trump Cleaners prospered. Even though I was only about 10, I came in during summer to help out. For a small boy, a dry cleaner’s is almost like an enchanted forest. The plastic-sheathed clothes that hung from the winding racks dangled high above my head, shimmering, and clung at me as I passed through the aisles, a customer’s ticket in hand. I’d occasionally be fairy-tickled by a tendril of static. The glade was rich in the clean steam smell of the pressing machine, and the astringent, not unpleasant odour of the dry-cleaning fluid (which, however, was possibly a carcinogen). As young as I was, I was allowed to operate the cash register, where I learned to make change quickly, before the customers could find flaws in the cleaning.

Trump Cleaners occupied a single lot in a subdivided retail building that was called, in former New York parlance, a ‘taxpayer’, which is kind of ironic, considering. There was a delicatessen next door and a few other small shops, whose owners must have delivered their own shoeboxes. From my place behind the counter, Trump Village’s 23-storey towers seemed as drab and monotonous as those in any other outer-borough contemporary apartment complex. I’m surprised to learn now that the buildings were designed by Morris Lapidus, who also built the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami, the embodiment of a certain kind of 1960s glamour.

According to the New York Times, after the Trumps removed two of the towers from an affordable housing programme, they fraudulently undervalued them to avoid taxes. They had previously been found to have excluded black tenants: a 1967 state investigation found only seven African American families in Trump Village’s 3700 apartments.

My father dutifully paid his rent every month and, a few years later, sold the business to buy another dry-cleaning store in Chelsea. The next owner dropped the Trump brand. We didn’t have anything to do with Fred Trump again, and Fred Trump no doubt never gave a thought to us, but we would continue to recall our brief encounter with the corrupt leviathan powers that ruled New York, as they grew wealthier and more corrupt with every passing year.


  • 15 November 2018 at 10:57am
    BBeckett says:
    New York was kinda sleazy so anything NY was also kinda sleazy. Garry Trudeau in the "Doonesbury" comic strip has been documenting the Trump sleaziness for close on 3 decades, so it is not that it should be any surprise. Trump University - remember?

    The worst thing about the "sleaze" is that everything becomes a bit tainted - everything has an angle. Do you dare to engage? Are you ready to be tainted?

  • 20 November 2018 at 3:39pm
    RosieBrock says:
    A salutary story that speaks of NY history, the feds, the IRS,individual responsibility (a 95 year old Dad) and the truism, that most massive wealth is built on cheating at some time in some way. This was cheating New York and New Yorkers in a 2-way deal that was no doubt replicated everywhere. D Trump has always hated the elites of New York as they looked down their narrow nostrils at him (although not former Mayor Giuliani). It's payback time. Not paying taxes seems to be a plus in the Trump supporters' lexicon. Fred's dead. So his son's 'larnin' from his daddy's knee,is not going to harm D Trump.

  • 20 November 2018 at 4:37pm
    raf37 says:
    this is the stuff that NY is made of

    • 20 November 2018 at 5:59pm
      Mothy says: @ raf37
      Working in New York transplanted from London from 1971 - 2003 I had a ringside seat in the sleazy rise of the Groper In Chief and his duplicitous Dad. Everything was documented by the marvellous investigative reporting in the Village Voice during this period - the racist behaviour and subsequent court cases, the tax dodge tricks, the alliances with shady Mafia types in the Atlantic City casino development, the use of threatening goons to intimidate reluctant elderly tenants in buildings they wanted to clear for re-development, the continuous New York Post gossip coverage of the Donald's sex life. And yet none of this stuck to the Teflon Don and millions of cheesed off voters gave him the ultimate power grab - the White House!

  • 21 November 2018 at 4:40pm
    Diplodoctus says:
    But wasn't the US founded by tax-dodgers? Boston tea party and all that...