The South Side recently lost a figure who was part grandmother, part unofficial community mayor.
Metropolitan Cleaners owner Margaret Hurney was 85 when she died on January 7. She owned and ran the dry cleaner for 44 years. Her family remembers even when sick, she rushed from the back of the shop when longtime favorite customers walked in.
“She just loved people,” said Margaret’s son, Tom. “She knew the questions to ask to find out what was going on.”
Customers loved Margaret right back, said Tom’s wife, Linda.
“People would come in just to talk to her—just to get things off their chest,” she said.
Margaret wouldn’t just listen—she wanted to help locals in ways big and small.
Tom recalls she once offered a favor to a customer who loved Hawaiian shirts. She told him she had a granddaughter in Hawaii who could supply him some straight from the islands. She came through on the offer.
“If she could do something for you, she’d do it,” Tom said.
Margaret’s husband Leon bought the business in 1968 in case anything ever happened to him, he wanted her to have a way to support herself and the couple’s six children. Several years after, he died.
Margaret remained at the helm of the old-fashioned cleaner—a store that still has an antique cash register, latticed counter fronts from the 1970s, and floral print wallpaper last changed 15 years ago. The long turnstiles of pressed clothing in plastic bags are just behind a glass partition. Margaret sewed buttons and hems until weeks before she passed away.
All along, the business was a family affair. Many years ago, Margaret brought her toy poodles to the store. Tom remembers first spending time at the cleaners at age five. It’s been his one and only job since he was a teen.
His wife, Linda works there, too—she’s been frequenting the shop since age eight when going to the dry cleaner to drop off and see Margaret was a big Saturday event for her and her grandmother. The family is still intimately connected with the shop. Once a year, the store sells Girl Scout cookies from Tom’s niece.
It wasn’t just in paying for dry cleaning that the community supported Metropolitan over the years. Tom remembers one time in the 70s when the neighborhood came through for Margaret and her shop. He had left the back door open and a gust of wind burst through and shattered the shop windows on East Carson. Immediately the owners of a bar across the street supplied beer and a pizza shop around the corner brought food for helpers who made quick work of boarding up the storefront.
Margaret accepted the help that time, but she was fiercely opinionated, independent and street smart, according to customers and family.
“She was a very considerate person--whether you were influential or an ex-bus driver like myself, she was always worried about you,” said Port Authority retiree John Krzeminski, a family friend for 35 years. “Even if she had a gripe, she’d come down and say, ‘How you doing?’ We didn’t fight all the time, but, you know, we ‘danced.’”
Tom said some people wouldn’t come around for years at a time and when Margaret asked where they’d been, they said they had been living out of town--“in Chicago,” one said.
“Yeah, they were in jail,” Margaret would say after the door shut behind them, according to Tom. “You couldn’t BS her, because she’d see right through it.”
Still, he said, “If she knew you, she became a part of your life.”