Jeff Jardine: Modesto dry cleaner has collection of abandoned heirlooms

jjardine@modbee.comMarch 5, 2014 

— A few days ago, ColleenRose Mastagni went to De Luxe Cleaners on McHenry Avenue to pick up – what else? – her dry cleaning order. After all, it’s not the kind of place you’d go to get a milkshake or your iPhone repaired.

The dry cleaning business has served customers since 1935, with second- and third-generation family members running it today. They clean and press clothes, adding starch upon request. They also offer services that include packaging wedding gowns, christening dresses and anything else customers want to preserve for future generations.

When Mastagni got to the counter, she saw a display of boxed, sealed and preserved wedding gowns and christening dresses. A longtime customer, she asked co-owner Pam Munthe why they were on display.

Their owners never returned to pick them up, Munthe told her. They’d paid a deposit to have them packaged – presumably for a daughter or granddaughter to wear at their own wedding or christening some day. Family heirlooms, you’d think. Think again.

One of the six abandoned wedding dresses has been there since the 1950s, co-owner Carl Gagliardi said. Maybe one from the 1960s or 1970s as well, based on the conditions and styles of the boxes, while one or two others have gone unclaimed for at least three years.

“We cleaned out the back room,” Munthe said. “Brooke (her daughter) said ‘Let’s display them.’ 

Munthe said she’s spent years trying to find the owners, leaving phone messages and sending letters pleading with them to come in and pick up their possessions.

Each box represents a mystery as to why it was left unclaimed. Weddings can be huge and costly productions that involve sit-down dinners, renting expensive venues and hiring musicians or DJs. In fact, you might surmise that if as much planning and forethought went into some marriages as it did some weddings, marriage would have a higher success rate. They have become an industry, with tens of thousands of dollars dedicated to a single day and the “I do’s.”

Many women grow up envisioning that day and that perfect dress, which can cost as much as someone is willing to pay – and more.

So why, then, would someone go to all the trouble of taking the dress into De Luxe or any of the other cleaners in town, plopping down $100 of the $200 packaging fee (the remainder is paid when they pick it up) and then leaving such a precious garment in the rearview mirror?

“I can’t believe it,” said Carl Gagliardi, Munthe’s dad and, with his wife Charlene, one of the co-owners. “Maybe they got divorced. Who knows? I don’t understand it.”

The boxes are numbered, with matching receipts on file. Other documentation might be inside each box, Gagliardi said, but they are sealed. Gagliardi and Munthe are hoping some of the dress owners will read this and come into claim what is rightfully theirs, bringing along the receipt or some proof of ownership – and the rest of the packaging fee payment, of course.

Otherwise, the dry cleaners will donate them to a local charity or to a group that collects and distributes wedding gowns to women either in the military or marrying someone in the military.

Wondering about the dresses, their owners and the story behind each certainly captivated Mastagni.

“Beads, feathers, sequins,” she said. “Beautiful. They are people’s history.”

She and husband Mike are the parents of 10-month-old Evelyn Rose, who will be christened in late June. When ColleenRose Mastagni saw one of the hand-knitted christening dress sets – probably more than 30 years old by the look of the packaging – she made an offer on it. Her great aunt from New York will make Evelyn Rose’s dress for the occasion, and can match it to the blanket, booties and bonnet from the old set.

Left behind, the set moved forward to become an adopted heirloom for a new family.

Meanwhile, the six wedding gowns and another christening dress are about to go out the door as well, to be used again on some big days.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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