Friday, November 27, 2020

Owners of Twichell's Dry Cleaners reflect on time in EL, look to future after closing

October 16, 2020
The interior of the Twichell's Dry Cleaners and Tailors on Oct. 2, 2020.
The interior of the Twichell's Dry Cleaners and Tailors on Oct. 2, 2020. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

94-year-old Twichell's Dry Cleaners and Tailors, a prominent East Lansing business, closed its doors indefinitely on Aug. 31. Now, owners Mesung Lee and Sang Won Lee are looking to the future while keeping an eye on their past.

Twichell's sits along M.A.C. Ave, and has been a well known piece of East Lansing for decades.Twichell's has historic ties to both the city and to MSU. 

Mesung Lee and her husband, Sang Won Lee, are the third owners of Twichell's, after they purchased the store in 1986.

“To me, it’s more than just dry cleaning,” Mesung said. “Customers feel like part of the family."

Mesung said that the youth of the East Lansing community gives her a feeling of energy and happiness.

Mesung graduated from Seoul National University in Korea and worked as a high school teacher and a registered nurse before her and her husband came to the United States in 1974. (15:16)

Reflecting on her time spent at Twichell’s, she said she felt a strong sense of vibrance in East Lansing, and that she feels that she had a very close relationship with her customers.

“The first owner was Mr. Twichell,” Mesung said referring to Burr Oscar Twichell. “He was a tailor man."

Burr Oscar Twichell, often known as Burr O. Twichell, a former student at the Michigan Agricultural College, (now simply known as MSU) and the mayor of East Lansing from 1949-51. For decades, the dry cleaning business has sewed, altered and cleaned the uniforms of MSU’s marching band, up until March of this year.

Mesung said her and her husband were already preparing to retire when the COVID-19 pandemic began affecting their business.

“I was pretty much ready to retire," Mesung said. "I was thinking two more years, but we had a hard time.”

Twichell's was only earning about 25% of its usual revenue upon its reopening during the ongoing global pandemic, according to Mesung. (3:09)

Mesung also cited construction on the Newman Lofts building as a reason for Twichell's closing. 

“All the construction and cars kind of blocked in the entrance of the customers coming in,” she said.

Mesung said that the construction decreased Twichell's revenue by over 30%.

But that the main reason the couple has chosen to retire, Mesung said, is their age. Both Mesung and her husband are in their 70’s, which makes them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, especially in a community with a large student presence.

Despite their early retirement, Mesung said they feel good about moving on.

“We are glad it’s done,” she said.

While Mesung was delighted to work in such a young, vibrant community, she said she is also looking to the future.

Mesung said that she will pursue her passion for painting, while her husband focuses on writing stories and playing the piano. The Lees also do some community outreach work.

“My husband and I have been working with a children's camp for Korean adopted children,” she said.

When the camp closed a few years ago, Lees decided to carry on the program.

“We built this small traditional Korean house, it's just one room,” she said, “so all those former campers, they can visit to my house."

Mesung describes the house as a place for adopted Korean children to connect with their culture, receive guidance, enjoy Lee’s cooking and to visit when they feel homesick.

“It kind of acts as a bridge between their adoptive family and their real family,” she said.

In 2015, Mesung and Sang Wong Lee hosted a celebration for Twichell's 89th year in business, which featured a floral exhibition designed by Mesung. She said she plans on creating a second display as a thank you to the East Lansing community once the pandemic is under control. She is also planning a similar celebration as a thank you to MSU’s marching band.

Twichell's has been an East Lansing staple for the 94 years it has been in business, and it will likely remain an important memory in East Lansing’s history through the family’s dedication to friendly customer relations and for their appreciation for the city they worked in.

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