Filed Under Businesses

Peerless Cleaners

The family-owned cleaners opened on the former site of the Commercial Soap Company in 1946.

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 1905, when it was still the outskirts of town.

The first to build here was the Commercial Soap Factory, constructed in 1905 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.

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. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2015

Images

Hats and Laundry
Hats and Laundry Peerless Cleaners and Beatty Hat Works opened in a new building at Forest & St. Lawrence in 1947. Source: Mark Bonnenfant
Commercial Soap Company, ca. 1906
Commercial Soap Company, ca. 1906 In 1905, 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. Source: Nevada Historical Society Date: ca. 1906
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. Source: Nevada Historical Society Date: 1921
Sierra Nevada Soap
Sierra Nevada Soap A bar of soap produced by the Sierra Nevada Soap Company, which took over from Commercial Soap in 1932. The bar was found on site by the Bonnenfant family, who purchased Peerless Cleaners in 1949. Source: Mark Bonnenfant
Peerless Cleaners, ca. 1947
Peerless Cleaners, ca. 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. Source: Mark Bonnenfant Date: ca. 1947
Peerless staff, 1983
Peerless staff, 1983 Standing outside the business in 1983 are Mary Elderkin, Fred Bonnenfant, Jr., Maxine Bonnenfant, and Fred Bonnenfant, Sr. Source: Nevada Historical Society Date: 1983
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 Date: 2016
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 Date: 2016

Location

698 Forest Street, Reno, NV

Metadata

Alicia Barber, “Peerless Cleaners,” Reno Historical, accessed July 14, 2024, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/149.