Coronavirus News: Broadway cleaners determined to stay afloat amid COVID-19 pandemic

MORRIS HEIGHTS, The Bronx (WABC) -- The announcement that Broadway shows would remain shut down until next year amid the coronavirus pandemic was bad news for all who make their living in the theater, but it also put the squeeze on dozens of outside companies that depend on stage productions for their survival.

And one example is the story of a family-owned business with a crucial part to play.

For more than a century, the best of Broadway has had their costumes cleaned at Ernest Winzer Cleaners in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx.

When every show closed down due to the pandemic, this business felt the impact right away.

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Bruce Barish owns this place with his wife, Sarah.

"If you'd asked me, you know, back in March if I thought I could make it five months, I probably would have said you're out of your mind," Bruce Barish said.

The link between the dry cleaner and the theater goes back to 1908, and the business has been in the same family since Bruce's grandfather bought it -- a connection that brings an added sense of responsibility.

"I felt that, but I also felt it to Broadway," he said. "I mean, we've been in close contact with everybody on Broadway since it started."

So many are out of work in the industry, which has had an impact.

"For the most part, I'm working with about half my staff," Bruce Barish said.

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Contrast that with the busy place we visited two years ago, when the business earned a special Tony Award for its service to the Broadway community.

Now, business is off by 90%.

The costumes for Disney's "Frozen" were among the last Bruce's crew cleaned. That was done weeks ago, and all of the garments are now in storage for future performances in other cities.

"So far, I've just been taking it day by day," he said. "That's all you can do."

A sign in his shop reads, "The Show Must Go On," and he's taking the message to heart.

"Somehow, we're going to make it to next year," he said. "We've been around forever, so we're not planning on going anywhere."

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