“It’s time to move on”: Gene Kelley sells Kelley’s Village Cleaners

Staff Writer

When Gene Kelley opened Kelley’s Village Cleaners in 1994 he saw a bright future ahead of him.

Gene wasn’t thinking about the day when he would sell or close his cleaners.

Then, 25 years later, the day came, and it came fast.

“We closed on January 16 of this year,” Gene said. “It happened fast.”

He said that his employees or customers didn’t know about the change, because the change wasn’t planned.

Gene first entertained the idea back in November when Ron Sessions, new owner, came into Kelley’s and offered to buy the business.

Longtime friends Professional Cleaners in Hickory sold out to Sessions and referred him to approach Gene.

At the time, Gene, nor his son and partner Jeff, were interested.

The two loved their customers and weren’t ready to give them up.

“Sometimes the only reason people came in there was to be harrassed by me,” Gene joked. “We liked to cut up with our customers.”

Jeff agreed.

“It was just so good because of our customers,” he said. “We had a good base of loyal customers for 25 years.”

But a couple months later, both father and son knew it was the right time to turn over their business.

Gene talked about the long 10 hour days he spent standing on the cleaner’s concrete floors. It was causing health problems.

“It was beginning to affect me. I’m 79 years old,” Gene said. “I’ve put in enough time.”

“We just had a good opportunity to sell the cleaners to some really good people,” Jeff said. “It was time to start the next chapter.”

To ease the transition, Gene and Jeff both worked another two weeks to help both the employees and customers with the change.

Sessions agreed to keep on the other employees also.

“He has seasoned employees-- all our employees have been there so long that they know the business,” Jeff said.

Since the sale, the Kelley’s have made changes of their own.

Jeff, who had always enjoyed restaurant work, has taken a management position at Red Lobster in Hickory.

“I’m a people person,” Jeff said. “And I like the fact that no two days are ever the same.”

Now Gene has a lot of time on his hands.

“I have a hard time getting up,” he said. “Even though you quit working, your body clock doesn’t change. It feels funny not going to work, and somedays I don’t know one day from the next.”

The pair do miss their work “neighbors”-- especially Al Bandy and JR at Redline Tire. They both also miss the routine.

“It’s strange not to see our leprechaun sign,” Jeff mentioned.

He laughed thinking back to time the sign was painted.

“The guy who painted the sign use to do billboards. He let his son help him and there were two right hands,” Jeff laughed.

That was just one memory the father and son share about so many years.

“I don’t feel sad, but I miss it,” Gene said.

Jeff said he got use to people driving by and honking while at the red light.

In the near future, Gene wants to finish the work on his new house, garden, and vacation in the mountains. He also plans to continue serving his church and being active in the Kiwanis.

“Our church has kept us pretty busy,” Gene said.

He also wants to continue doing the charity work he did before his retirement.

He’d often clean people’s laundry for free.

“We like serving our community and helping any way we can,” Gene said. “But it’s time to move on and serve in other ways.”

As for the Kelleys, they have no intentions of leaving Newton.

“We like Newton. It’s the best people in the world,” Jeff said. “This is home and we have no plans of leaving.”