Mercantile Library Collection
715 Market St.
Construction Date:


Chinese hand laundries became one of the first types of businesses associated with Chinese immigrants. St. Louis' Chinatown originally had several hand laundries, that later moved elsewhere in the city. However, the Downtown Cleaners, located at 716 Market, remained in Chinatown over the decades.

Chinese hand laundries in St. Louis' Chinatown resembled Chinese laundries in other areas of the city, as well as other Chinatowns across the United States. A typical hand laundry consisted of four sections. First, there was the office and workshop area located at the front of the laundry. This area is where laundryman would greet his customers. Second, in the back room behind the workshop, were the living quarters for the laundryman and his family. A third area was reserved for drying the laundry usually done by an old-fashioned coal stove. Finally, at the rear of the laundry, was the location of the laundry equipment such as washing machines, washing sinks, and steam boilers.

The first Chinese hand laundries were originally concentrated within Chinatown. However, to prevent competition among the growing numbers of laundries within Chinatown, the On Leong Mercants and Laborers Association ruled, "there was only on Chinese laundry allowed within the perimeter of a mile." Due to this rule, Chinese hand laundries became peppered throughout the St. Louis area. One such laundry was the Sam Wah laundry located at 4381 Laclede Avenue, owned by the brothers Gee Hong and Gee One.