Irvin Miller, 77, longtime dry cleaner

October 01, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Irvin Miller, the longtime owner of a Lutherville dry-cleaning establishment who was known for his emphasis on customer service and satisfaction, died Monday of pulmonary and respiratory failure at Sinai Hospital. He was 77 and a resident of the Fallstaff section of Northwest Baltimore.

A city native raised on East Baltimore Street, Mr. Miller left City College in 1943 to enlist in the merchant marine. He spent the remaining war years as a navigator aboard Liberty ships in the Atlantic and Pacific, delivering troops and war materiel.

He returned to Baltimore in 1946 and worked briefly at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant while earning his General Educational Development diploma.

After his marriage in 1948 to the former Annette Kirsh, Mr. Miller went to work for his father-in-law's dry-cleaning and tailoring business in Towson.

Mr. Miller became owner of Kirsh Cleaners & Tailors and moved the business in the 1960s to the 1500 block of York Road in Lutherville. Since 1981, it has been at Bellona Avenue and York Road.

Dressed in a polo shirt, slacks and sometimes with a measuring tape around his neck, Mr. Miller greeted customers from a counter in the front of the store.

"Customers stayed with him for years and years, and the reason was his personal service. He also got to know their families, took an interest in them and always made them feel special," said his daughter, Eileen S. Greenberg of Ellicott City.

He also would step back into the plant to help press pants, clean suits or fold shirts.

"I think he touched every garment in one way or another that went through the plant. If he saw his employees needed help, he'd go back there and go to work," the daughter said. "He always treated his employees as family, and they respected and liked him. If they were short of money, for instance, or needed help, he took care of them from his pocket."

For years, Mr. Miller kept gray ledger books with brown spines, from which he would render handwritten bills once a month for the store's charge customers.

"No computer or typed bills for him. They were all in his hand," Mrs. Greenberg said.

Mr. Miller's son, Steven E. Miller of Pikesville, joined the business in 1983, working with him until it was sold in 2002.

"He was a tireless worker, and the business was everything to him. He had put his heart, soul and tears into it. It was something he could never get out of his system," said the son. "He had such an incredible work ethic. It didn't matter to him if something took 10 minutes to do or 10 hours, it had to be right."

He added, "He lived by the credo that it took years and years to build a relationship with a customer and said that it `only took one incident to ruin it.'"

"Oh, he always had a twinkle in his eye when a customer came into the store. And he was always doing extra things for them," said Ann S. Dahne of Riderwood, a customer for 20 years who readily recalled his expertise in cleaning an elaborately embroidered silk kimono that her husband had purchased in Japan many years ago while serving in the Navy.

After the business was sold, the new owners asked Mr. Miller to stay on, and he continued working until the day before entering Sinai Hospital three weeks ago.

Mr. Miller enjoyed raising German shepherds and at one time owned several thoroughbred racehorses.

"His stable was Mitt Glick, which is Yiddish for good luck," Mrs. Greenberg said.

His longtime friend and former horse trainer, Charles R. Lewis, recalled him yesterday as a "genuinely nice person."

"He had a couple of racehorses that won a couple of races. More than anything else, he enjoyed it and was in it for the fun," Mr. Lewis said.

Mr. Miller attended the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

Services were Tuesday.

In addition to his wife, son and daughter, Mr. Miller is survived by two sisters, Bernice Raynor and Sonya Garfield, both of Baltimore, and three grandchildren.

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