When John Albert was a boy growing up in Cedar Rapids, working at his parents’ dry cleaning and laundry business wasn’t exactly in his plans.
He did have designs on buying a new bicycle at some point, though. To earn some cash, he began sweeping the floors at Albert’s Cleaners, now Citywide Cleaners on First Avenue NE, what is now part of the MedQuarter Regional Medical District.
“In high school I worked myself up to where I was driving a route van and then worked myself up to where I was doing some of the dry cleaning and spot removal,” John said.
After college John worked a summer at Citywide and liked the challenges of the business. He’s now the third generation in his family to run Citywide and the eight locations it now operates.
Riding Out the Storms
John and Citywide have been through a lot, weathering the 2008 flood and, most recently, the pandemic. Those dual disasters shrunk Citywide — forcing layoffs and putting the business into “survival mode.”
“Right after COVID hit, we lost 85% of our business,” John said.
Despite fewer office workers commuting downtown and to the MedQuarter, Citywide saw unexpected growth in the personal laundry sector during the pandemic. Families and individuals wanted their items professionally laundered and folded, John said.
“They still want all the time they possibly can get and so they want to eliminate that task,” John said.
The pandemic also caused more people to have household items professionally laundered like draperies, rugs, comforters, pillows and kids’ stuffed animals. “They want them cleaned and sterilized,” he said.
He predicts the desire for freedom from laundry will likely continue, even as infections slow, masks get put away and people return to the office.
And Citywide’s cleaning services for hospitals, doctors’ offices and other medical facilities in the MedQuarter never stopped during the pandemic.
The anchor through the years of ups and downs has been Citywide’s headquarters in the District. The company has its main office, a storefront for dry cleaning, tuxedo rental shop, and a 12,000-square-foot production facility where all orders are processed.
Citywide has been here since before this part of town had a name, John said, but the area has seen major improvements, from the parkways and sidewalks to the buildings themselves after the city and businesses worked to form the district.
“This is making it more attractive for other businesses to come in,” he said.
As a member of the Medical SSMID Commission tasked with oversight of the MedQuarter, that’s exactly what John wants — more businesses of all sorts thriving in the district.
838 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids