For the first time in more than five decades, 31 Miller Ave. in downtown Mill Valley won't be home to a dry cleaner.
The Lu family, owners of in that space for the past 13 years, moved the business abruptly last week after negotiations with property owner Lynn Spaulding broke down over a dispute about equipment. They closed on Aug. 15 and quickly moved to 87 East Blithedale Ave., opening on Aug. 16, according to Wendy Lu, the daughter of owners James and Jennifer Lu.
Both Lu and Spaulding confirmed that a disagreement over equipment led to York’s move. At issue was an old “perc machine,” named for the colorless liquid perchloroethylene widely used for dry cleaning fabrics.
According to Bay Area Air Quality Management District spokesman Aaron Richardson, York’s “perc machine” had expired according to state and district regulations in January.
“They have a piece of equipment that they need to replace and they cannot continue using it,” Richardson said.
Wendy Lu said Spaulding wanted her parents to buy an expensive replacement and they simply could afford it.
“We have always had a bumpy relationship with our landlord,” Wendy Lu said. ”This is really a blessing in disguise. It’s a chance to start new with a landlord who isn’t constantly looking to micro-manage our business.”
York will continue its , Lu said. Because the new space is 1,500 square feet smaller than the old one, she said, all dry cleaning will be done off site at an affiliated shop in San Rafael. Jennifer Lu will continue to do alternations on site.
Spaulding said she was disappointed that the Lu family couldn’t find the funding for a new machine.
“I had great concern about the use of that machine,” Spaulding said. “It was out of compliance for quite some time. But I know that the new machines are extremely expensive, so it’s disappointing."
Spaulding is mum on who that might be but said the new tenant will likely move in within four weeks.
“Everyone will be very happy with the new tenants and it will be a wonderful surprise,” she said.
In the meantime, Spaulding said the space is undergoing a substantial cleanup to repair substantial water damage and dry rot. She said a clean break was necessary, and that the new occupant of 31 Miller definitely won’t be a dry cleaner.
“It’s a time for a new type of business to go in there,” she said. "We really felt that it was time that we got all the toxic chemicals and old equipment out of there.”
It’ll be the first new use of the space in at least 45 years. Martin Franchises opened One-Hour Martinizing there in the 1960s. Barnard Lewis bought the franchise in the early 1970s and continued to operate it under the same name for a few years before changing it to York Cleaners. Lu bought York 13 years ago.
The Spaulding family sued Lewis, Martin Franchises and a number of other parties in 2008 in California Northern District Court over who ought to be held responsible for addressing the contaminated soil and groundwater at and around the property.
Spaulding alleged that during both the Martin and York operations, tetrachlorethylene was used as the industrial solvent in the dry cleaning equipment and was released into the environment at the site and has been detected in the soil and groundwater. The California Regional Water Quality Control Board San Francisco Bay Region required Spaulding to investigate and remediate the contamination.
The parties eventually reached a settlement in 2009.
Despite the abrupt change, Wendy Lu said her family is grateful for their loyal customers.
“Many of our customers were more upset about our move than we were,” she said. “We’re really thankful for that.”