A demolition crew knocked down the 107-year-old brick and stone Shorty’s Cleaner Launderer building in downtown Stillwater this week, triggering a fresh round of complaints from some about the loss of local history.
The one-story building sat on the corner of E. Chestnut and S. 2nd streets behind its iconic “Shorty” sign and was known as one of the most recognizable and long-lived businesses in town.
Business partners Joleen Bourdaghs and Carol Eggers were the last owners of Shorty’s. In a dispute that landed in Washington County District Court last year, they fought with officials over the building’s future.
They eventually agreed to sell it to the city for $900,000, according to former owner John Bourdaghs, Joleen’s father and the son of original owner Clarence “Shorty” Bourdaghs.
John Bourdaghs said he watched the last bit of demolition. “Few businesses go two generations,” he said, “and fewer yet go to the third.”
For now, Stillwater plans to use the vacant lot for parking, a change outlined for at least 10 years in the city’s comprehensive plan. The lot can accommodate about 37 parking spaces, and the city-owned lot next door has 47 spaces. The block could one day see a three-story parking ramp with entrances on 2nd, Chestnut and 3rd streets, according to Mayor Ted Kozlowski.
The owners last summer pushed back against city efforts to take the building by eminent domain, telling the judge they didn’t believe the city’s reasoning for condemning the building fell under public use as required by law. Their attorney argued the parking was actually intended for a development expected in the National Guard Armory.
Kozlowski, hit by renewed criticism this week, reminded some of his critics on social media that the owners had been interested in selling all along. Both sides eventually reached a settlement, clearing the way for demolition.
John Bourdaghs, who ran the business from the 1960s until 1999, said the dry-cleaning game had changed. Informal clothing has taken over, he said.
Nowadays, even the governor of Minnesota wears blue jeans at news conferences.
“It wasn’t too long ago that people got dressed up when they went flying, and now look at them,” he said. “Holy moly!”