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

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 Record

Map

698 Forest Street, Reno, NV