It can take a lot to keep a business going.

Loyal customers. Dedicated employees. The ability to adapt with changing times.

Paducah's Owen Cleaners appears to have that in spades since owners David and Carolyn Perry celebrated the family business' 100th anniversary Friday at its main plant on Kentucky Avenue.

"The year was 1920," David Perry said. "Woodrow Wilson was president. Babe Ruth had just been sold by the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees. He was yet to play his first game (for the Yankees). The League of Nations was being formed and women were getting the vote for the first time."

It was also when Horace and Tully Owen opened Owen Brothers Quality Cleaners in Paducah.

"Here we are 100 years later," he added. "The League of Nations isn't around anymore. Woodrow Wilson is long gone. Babe's in the Hall of Fame. Two things are still around -- Owen Cleaners and the women can still vote."

More than 30 friends, customers, employees and other visitors gathered for an informal ceremony, where the couple expressed thanks, recognized longtime employees, served cake and paid homage to the past. At one point, David Perry showed a recent copy of a News-Democrat advertisement from Jan. 11, 1920 -- exactly 100 years ago -- to those in attendance.

Richard Holland, who is a friend and customer, attended the festivities and explained that his parents always went to Owen Cleaners too.

"If you had a job and you wanted to look decent, you had to get your shirts cleaned at Owen Cleaners," he said. "You learned to always bring 'em in and ask for extra starch and hangers. You could wear them two or three times, so if you had a fresh clean shirt from Owen's, you know you are ready for the day."

The business changed names and hands over the years, but it stayed in the family.

It's personal for Carolyn Perry, who is granddaughter to Horace Owen and daughter of previous owner Gene Katterjohn. Horace Owen bought out the business from his brother and was later joined by his son-in-law Katterjohn in 1950. Their partnership expanded the business and lasted until his death in 1977.

Katterjohn and his wife, Carolyn, ran the business until the early 1990s, when their daughter Carolyn Perry and David Perry bought it in 1992. They left corporate careers in Dallas and moved to Paducah to continue the work, becoming the third generation to own and operate it.

"1920 -- Mr. Owen had a vision," Carolyn Perry said. "He had a vision from Fulton, Kentucky. The road from Fulton to Paducah was not paved, but he had a vision to start this establishment in Paducah. He loved Paducah. And so, there it is -- 1920 to 2020, and we're still going. I think he would be really proud of all of us that have been involved in this business."

She explained he wasn't one to look back and say, "Should've done this differently."

"Look forward," she said. "Look forward to the future. What can we do? Mr. Owen and Mr. Katterjohn -- and we've tried to follow their footsteps -- were very innovative businessmen. Very innovative in every step of the way, and I think that's what's defined our business and we're very proud of that."

Owen Cleaners does dry cleaning and wet cleaning, in addition to alteration services and some drapery and household fabrics work, according to David Perry. There are currently four Paducah locations at Kentucky Avenue, Lone Oak Road, Clark Street and Reidland Road.

Over the decades, its services changed and diversified at times. In early years, it specialized in dry cleaning and laundry services, along with fur cleaning, alterations and fabric dyeing. The business expanded into coin-operated laundromats in the 1950s. It's also offered drapery and rug cleaning and photo finishing.

David Perry thinks all three generations were good at "changing, adapting and evolving" to fit the times, something Carolyn Perry echoed.

"The secret is paying attention to every aspect of business," she said. "Pay attention to your employees and how they're doing. Pay attention to the customer needs ... and providing an excellent service. But as my husband has said ... you have to adapt."

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thank you for Reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.