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‘A sad and glorious history’: One of NYC’s last Chinese hand laundries closes

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By Hanna Park
Oct. 9, 2020

For more than half a century, residents of Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood would pick up their freshly starched shirts in flimsy plastic bags from Sun’s Laundry. The store’s red vintage sign, silver countertop bell, Chinese and Westernized calendars, bright customer tickets and over-the-counter conversations served as relics of a bygone era. 

Now, the shop sits desolate after having closed at the end of August, following decades during which the Sun family spent their days washing clothes in mixed starch and water, then taking an electric stainless steel iron to the garments to present their customers with crisp, pressed shirts. At night, they retreated to their two-bedroom apartment unit above the store. 

The Chinese hand laundry store — known for packaging the final product in traditional brown paper and twine — was one of the last in Manhattan, and it had been operating as a family business since 1959, with Robert S. Lee, 84, at the helm. He opened it with his father, Lee Dow Sun, after whom it’s named. During the 1930s, Sun also owned a laundry in Boston, where Lee had first immigrated searching for opportunity. 

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