by Kate Christenberry
Cleveland Park Valet – A Small Business Staple
Robert Kotchenreuther II, owner of Cleveland Park Valet at 3303 Connecticut Avenue, got into the dry-cleaning business in a unique way. Thirty-five years ago, he started dating the previous owner’s daughter. He began working at the store on Saturdays. Weekends led to more days, and “next thing you know I’m part-time, then I’m full-time, and then [Seymour Weinstein] sold me the business in 1995,” Bob says.
The store initially opened in the 50s, doing shoe repairs only. Dry-cleaning services began in the 60s. Now customers can also have alterations done and keys made. And if you ever need a notary public, Bob’s your man. If witnesses are needed, he knows all he has to do is step outside and ask some neighborhood residents to pop in and help out.
That’s his favorite part of being a business owner in Cleveland Park. When asked what he likes most about being in the neighborhood, he responds immediately. “Oh, the people. The people are so nice. As a matter of fact, my sister often tells me that she can’t wait to help me out on Saturdays because the people are just so nice.”
In addition to his sister Debbie, Bob employs his good friend Peter and two area high-schoolers, Blake and Reese – the children of long-time customers. He is a member of the Cleveland Park Business Association and credits his membership to Susan Lihn of Wake Up Little Susie. “When she tells me to do something, I do it,” he says with a smile.
His most memorable story from his tenure at Cleveland Park Valet is pure DC. “When Mondale was running for the presidency Mrs. Mondale would come in. The Secret Service would drop her off, stand outside, and wait for her. “She was one of the nicest ladies. I come from a country town” – Frederick, MD – “and I thought that was pretty cool.”
Cleveland Park Valet offers delivery services to many apartment buildings between Cleveland Park and Woodley Park, as well as a few homes. Bob says “if a customer asks me to deliver, I deliver.”
When asked about the many recent changes in the neighborhood, he responds with an optimistic attitude. “We’re going through a change-over right now, but it’s still as recession-proof as you can get, Cleveland Park.” He adds, “There’s a lot of loyalty. I think for the most part a lot of people, if they had the choice between a big corporation and small business, they will go out of their way, even if it costs a couple of pennies more, to support a small business. I know I do.”