Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Greeting the New Year with uncertainty is my favorite neighborhood small business.

Jin’s Cleaners and Tailoring, at the Williamsburg Shopping Center, is negotiating with its landlord on a threatened rent hike.

But all the while its sole proprietor, a Korean immigrant named Briant, teams up six days a week with wife Jin and two staffers to continue helping hundreds of customers enjoy freshened dresses, smartly starched collars and custom-fit alterations.

I’ll confess to being one of their toughest customers.

Since 1997, the couple has been commuting to north Arlington from Gainesville, sometimes bringing their son David and daughter Angela to help behind the counter (both have since launched their own careers).

Briant, who came to the United States from South Korea in 1980 at age 15 with his parents, attended the now-defunct Groveton High School in Fairfax. Expert seamstress Jin came over in 1990, and the two met through their church pastor.

Briant earned experience in the clothing industry via his father’s manufacturing operation “back when the economy was booming and things were made in the USA,” he says. But then the operations migrated to Central America and China.

In 2003 Jin’s Cleaners moved around the corner at the top of N. Sycamore St. alongside what is now a frozen yoghurt shop, a nail salon, Backyard Barbecue, a departed-then-returned Seven-Eleven and two delis. The hard-working Koreans maintain steady clientele despite another dry cleaners across the street by the CVS.

For me personally, Jin’s Cleaners is a twice-weekly stop on my morning constitutional. (Besides exercise, I get points with my wife for door-to-door delivery, and for sometimes persuading Jin to bump her garments, in an emergency, to the front of the line.)

Once when I triggered their doorbell at 7:15 a.m., Briant and Jin gently reminded me that they open an hour later on Saturdays. They helped me anyway. In return, I began recycling their coat hangers. And I gave them a photograph of the predecessor dry cleaners in the same slot, shown in a 1960s Yorktown High School yearbook.

But here’s how Jin’s Cleaners displays the real dedication that keeps an oaf like me in sartorial splendor.

I am not a fan of Ralph Lauren. But sometimes I buy his pricey shirts because they’re all that’s available in a certain color. I detest the polo pony insignia. And the absence of a breast pocket. Jin once tactfully dissuaded me when I asked her impractically to sew one on over the pony.

We journalists depend on pockets to hold our accouterments. But as a menswear clerk once told me (with a superior air), those who sport Ralph’s logo don’t wish to be seen as working stiffs, or as ink-stained wretches.

Speaking of which, I’ve lately adopted the bad habit of absent-mindedly returning my ball-point pens to said breast pocket. Too often, I fail to click the point safely closed. The result: a dripping ink splotch shining from my chest.

So I bring those shirts to Jin. Who frowns. She says there’s no hope for cleaning it. Then I beg, saying how much I love the shirt. So Jin promises to try. Three days later, the shirt–depending on its pattern—looks nearly new. It required double scrubbing, so I pay Jin extra. And promise not to do it again. Until a week later.

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You have until Jan. 15 to check out Tom Dickinson’s arty “then and now” photo exhibit dramatizing housing trends in Arlington.

The former president of the Arlington Historical Society has been capturing images of fancy and less-than-fancy vanishing homes for 38 years. The hobby combines his love of history with worry over the loss of shelter affordability he says is “changing the character” of our county.

Dickinson’s 15 vintage-window-framed panels are at Westover Library. The grant-funded artist seeks a permanent home.