As part of the Riverside BIA: 40 Years, 40 Stories series, we’re putting a spotlight on Better Way Cleaners at 724 Queen Street East, one of Riverside’s longest standing family businesses and the family behind the steadfast storefront.
Our thanks go to Edward Jang – who took over the family business after his late father William (Bill) Jang’s retirement in 1988 – for sharing his thoughts and memories for this article.
How has the community changed over the years?
When asked what the Riverside neighbourhood was like when Better Way Cleaners first opened, Edward shared:
“Not like it is now. It was a bunch of clothing stores, shoe stores, and the odd grocery – unlike now, how it is mostly restaurants. Once Gerrard Square opened up in the 70s, all the businesses on Queen started moving there and they were replaced by restaurants.”
“It wasn’t the best area in Toronto at the time… it was a rougher area. The [Broadview] hotel was a hotel, then it became a strip club, now they’ve renovated it to what it is now. The southeast corner was a bank, and the southwest corner was actually another cleaners at the time.”
Reflecting on how the community itself had changed, he added that Riverside in the 1960s was “definitely a working-class neighbourhood…”
“The community is younger now, and more couples and families. It’s more family oriented. With the new condo developments, there’s a lot more young professionals. Before these were condos, they were working areas.”
With so many local and family-owned businesses having come and gone in the neighbourhood in the time since Better Way Cleaners opened, we asked what kept them in Riverside. Edward shared that his roots are in this neighbourhood, where he grew up and went to school, and knows so well. He grew up in a large family in a busy neighbourhood, no stranger to hard work, with a strong sense of community.
“It’s tradition”, he said, “My father opened this store. I grew up in this area, graduated from U of T and worked at TD bank. When my father was ready to retire, he asked me if I wanted to take over the business, and I’ve been doing this full time since 1988.”
“I come from a family of 8, and I’m number 6. All of us have come and worked here and then gone off to school, but I stuck around here and took over the business.”
When asked about what challenges the business has faced over the years, Edward chuckles and answers “Taxes! They’re crazy in this area” before adding:
“There’s been a decline in demand for dry cleaning services. When I worked at the bank in the 80s, everybody wore suits, skirts, dresses. Then they introduced casual Fridays… there’s just been a whole shift culturally and people rely on dry cleaning services less. Especially now, more and more people are working from home. Even when they do go to work, it’s sweaters or golf tops – when I was at the bank, it was jackets, ties, and suits. Dress codes are becoming less restrictive, and I guess that effects my line of business!”
What hopes do you have for Riverside’s future?
“I hope it continues to grow and trend with new stores. I would hope that this area becomes more like Queen and Spadina – how it’s so busy and they have some higher end shops. A shift towards more of a balance between retail and dining, to draw more young people in and keep them in the area.”
Edward shares that the main changes that the business has made over the years has been in their machinery and equipment, but their business model and approach has remained constant: “We’ve had the same storefront since 1965.”
Keeping up with industry standards, as well as shifting toward digital and automated technology has been the biggest business change. “We’ve updated our machines. The ones we have now are just three or four years old. We started 50 some odd years ago with used machines.”
Does the technology change frequently in this industry?
“It has become a lot more computerized. Before, you could fix the machines with stuff you could get at the hardware store. Now when something breaks down, you have to call the specialist to fix it.”
Edward also shared the sad news of his father’s passing last year:
“It happened on Thanksgiving last year. He was 89 years old… Fine one day and didn’t wake up the next. He did start it all back here in ’65.”
When asked for any final thoughts for this article, Edward mentions that he plans on retiring in the next few years. While there are no concrete plans regarding what to do with the business, or a set date in his mind, Edward is fond of his years in Riverside. He says he embraces change and is excited for the future of this neighbourhood — which he will observe from retirement.