Peerless Cleaners

Commercial Soap Company (site)

There’s something soapy at the intersection of St. Lawrence Avenue and Forest Street. Two businesses, separated in time but linked by a passion for keeping things clean, have perched on this little hilltop since 1906, when it was still the outskirts of town.

The first to build here was the Commercial Soap Factory, constructed in 1906 after operating at American Flat, near Virginia City, for thirty years. The company sold a variety of washing powders and so-called “toilet soaps,” including Paul Savon, Golden West Savon, Borax, and Chemical Olive Soap. August Frolich purchased the company in 1913, and sold the business and most of its machinery to the newly-formed Sierra Nevada Soap Company in 1932. Three years later, the entire complex, then vacant, burned down.

The surrounding streets were reoriented after the fire. Originally, St. Lawrence Avenue ran westward from Plumas Street but dead-ended at Forest Street, where it was blocked by the soap company. From the other direction, a very narrow street called Steiner extended from Virginia Street for just two blocks, also dead-ending at Forest. After the demolition of the soap company's remnants, St. Lawrence and Steiner Streets were linked, with the entire street eventually renamed St. Lawrence.

The factory site stood vacant for several years until the construction of Peerless Cleaners, a dry cleaning plant, began in 1946. The building also housed Beatty Hatworks, run by Roy Beatty. Less than a year after opening its doors, Peerless owner Bob Cantrell was seriously injured in a car accident, and in 1949, Fred Bonnenfant, Sr. bought the business from him. An experienced businessman, Bonnenfant had founded Blue Goose Cleaners in Sparks, and later ran the Lustrlux Cleaners on Sierra Street in Reno.

Bonnenfant and his wife, Maxine, found great success with Peerless Cleaners. Their son, Fred, began working there after graduating from high school, but Fred Sr. continued to run the place until his death in 1991. The family added a laundry room in the 1950s, primarily for laundering shirts. A new boiler room and offices were also added to the south side of the building.

Although dry cleaning procedures have changed over time, the business has retained its wide range of clientele, handling wardrobe for area casinos, from Harolds Club to the Silver Legacy, as well as individual customers. In 2006, the Bonnenfant family partnered with Norm Davis, with Fred Sr.'s grandson Mark managing the operation.

Images

Hats and Laundry

Hats and Laundry

Peerless Cleaners and Beatty Hat Works opened in a new building at Forest & St. Lawrence in 1947. Image courtesy of Mark Bonnenfant View File Details Page

Commercial Soap Company, c. 1906

Commercial Soap Company, c. 1906

In 1906, owner H. J. Crampton relocated his soap business from the Comstock area to Reno, a better site for manufacturing and distribution. Peerless Cleaners would be constructed here exactly 40 years later. Image courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

Expanded soap factory, 1921

Expanded soap factory, 1921

An addition to the Commercial Soap Company doubled its size. Sold in 1932, the vacant complex burned in 1935 and was torn down soon after. Image courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

Peerless Cleaners, c. 1947

Peerless Cleaners, c. 1947

One of the company's delivery vans is parked at the building's entrance. A press and a puffer, still in a crate, await installation. The original neon sign was replaced in the 1960s. Image courtesy of Mark Bonnenfant View File Details Page

Peerless staff, 1983

Peerless staff, 1983

Standing outside the business in 1983 are Mary Elderkin, Fred Bonnenfant, Jr., Maxine Bonnenfant, and Fred Bonnenfant, Sr. Image courtesy of Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

Retro style, 2016

Retro style, 2016

A consistent outward appearance, complete with hand-painted signs on the exterior, help the building retain its classic style. | Creator: Alicia Barber View File Details Page

Mark Bonnenfant, 2016

Mark Bonnenfant, 2016

Mark Bonnenfant stands inside Peerless Cleaners, which his grandfather, Fred Bonnenfant, Sr., purchased in 1949. Mark's father, Fred, Jr., ran the business for a time as well. | Creator: Patrick Cummings View File Details Page

Audio

How the Bonnenfants got into the cleaning business

Interviewed in 2015, Mark Bonnenfant explains what led up to his grandfather's purchase of Peerless Cleaners in 1949. View File Details Page

Street Address:

698 Forest Street, Reno, NV [map]

Cite this Page:

Alicia Barber, “Peerless Cleaners,” Reno Historical, accessed June 26, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/149.

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