Tom Eblen: Family-owned Sonny's Cleaners sold to another family

Tommy and Candy Hicks, center, whose family has owned Sonny's Cleaners in Chevy Chase for nearly 50 years, introduced the new owner, Perry Carrico, left, to longtime customer Mary Reynolds.
Tommy and Candy Hicks, center, whose family has owned Sonny's Cleaners in Chevy Chase for nearly 50 years, introduced the new owner, Perry Carrico, left, to longtime customer Mary Reynolds. Herald-Leader

Some of Tommy Hicks' earliest memories are of watching the construction of his late father Sonny's dry cleaning shop in Chevy Chase Shopping Center off South Ashland Avenue in 1964.

Hicks grew up working part-time at Sonny's One-Hour Cleaners. When he graduated from Lexington Catholic High School in 1976, he switched to full-time. His wife, Candy, a 1976 Lafayette grad, joined the business after their three children were born.

It was a good life and living for many years, Candy Hicks said, "But when it became apparent that none of the kids was interested in taking over, we knew we had to do something."

So, on May 31, the Hickses signed papers to sell their nearly 50-year-old family business.

"This has been the hardest thing we've ever done," she said. "But as hard as it has been, at least we were able to pass it on to another family. We didn't want to sell out to a big chain."

The new owner is the Carrico family, which has owned and operated Springfield Laundry in Washington County since 1939. The two families already were well acquainted. The Hickses have always done dry cleaning and repairs in-house, but Springfield Laundry has done their washing for the past seven years.

All of the work will now be done in Springfield, with the Chevy Chase store functioning as a drop-off and pick-up location. Perry Carrico said he plans to continue calling the place Sonny's Cleaners, although the "one-hour" will have to go.

Most importantly, Carrico said, he plans to continue the high level of personal service the Hickses have always provided.

"I just want their customers to know they're going from good hands to good hands," said Carrico, who has a similar location in Danville. "We're small-town people."

The Hickses spent last week helping the Carricos get settled and saying tearful goodbyes to their customers, some of whom have been bringing clothes here for decades to be cleaned and mended. The Hickses have even set up an email account for people to keep in touch with them:

The Hickses, who both turn 55 this year, said they will miss the daily interaction with customers, including several generations of some families. Those customers have come from all over Central Kentucky and as far away as Barbourville.

"I've gotten to know every one of them — their kids, where they work, where they go to church," Candy Hicks said. "I like to be around people. This has been such a blessing."

"We just always wanted to treat people like family," Tommy Hicks added. "I guess it pays off to be nice."

The Hickses will not miss their 60-hour-plus work weeks. Nor will they have to worry any more that customers might be inconvenienced if they take more than a long weekend for vacation.

"This has been a major blessing, but also a major commitment of work," Candy Hicks said.

"Neither of us has had much leisure time since 1976," Tommy Hicks added. "We just got out of high school and went to work."

As with many family businesses, Sonny's Cleaners has been integral to family life. The Hickses' three children grew up working in the business, learning people skills and the value of hard work. But they have moved away from Lexington to pursue their own ambitions.

Matthew works in management for the London Eye, the giant ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames River in England. Nicki and her husband live in Hamilton, Ohio. Ben works in insurance in St. Louis with his wife and their two young sons.

The Hickses' immediate retirement plans include trips to Arizona and England and more visits to their grandsons in St. Louis.

"I hope to be Mamaw more often," she said.

Tommy Hicks likes computers, so he said he might keep busy doing information technology work.

Candy Hicks isn't sure what she will do with her time, but she has one part-time job offer: Carrico wants her to come back and work the desk at Sonny's Cleaners, her home away from home for more than three decades.

She's thinking about it.