Ennis Glen Dawson, 81, of Rosemont, the longtime owner-operator of two dry-cleaning establishments in Philadelphia, died Thursday, Sept. 5, of complications from Parkinson’s disease at his home.
Mr. Dawson had always wanted to own a business, and in 1973 he opened Dawson’s Cleaners at 5718 Lansdowne Ave., offering professional dry-cleaning and tailoring services.
In the mid-1980s, he opened a second store about four blocks down on Lansdowne Avenue where clients could drop off clothes. After cleaning and pressing at the first location, the clothes were returned to the shop down the street, located near a bus stop, where they could be picked up. He added the second location because it had lots of foot traffic.
The two stores were staffed by members of the Dawson family, said daughter Crystal Blanco. “I helped for a few years. My husband, my mother, and my cousin worked there. It was truly a family operation,” she said.
The business had a diverse customer base. “Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter was a customer. We had people from the Philadelphia Zoo, and Ringling Brothers when the circus was in town,” his daughter said. “But the bulk of the business came from West Philly and Overbrook.”
Mr. Dawson was an expert tailor and much admired for the mentoring he did of young people in the community, his daughter said. He was in business for 42 years before selling both locations and retiring in August 2015.
Born in Bivins, Texas, Mr. Dawson was the son of Hiram and Zephyr Dawson. The Dawson family moved to Philadelphia in 1946, when Mr. Dawson was 8.
Shortly after arriving, the family joined what is now the Metropolitan Baptist Church. Mr. Dawson attended the church’s Sunday school and was baptized in 1954 at age 17.
Mr. Dawson graduated from Bok Vocational-Technical High School in 1955 after training as a tailor.
He began his career at the Sears retail store in Northeast Philadelphia as the store’s first African American tailor, the family said. He became a salesman in the men’s department there. Over time, he became the first African American to manage the men’s department.
In the late 1960s, Mr. Dawson was transferred to the Sears store in the 69th Street area of Upper Darby, where he was the manager of women’s wear, including five different departments. He worked there until 1973, when he went into business for himself.
“He probably could have become a CEO at Sears, but he had that entrepreneurial spirit,” his daughter said.
Mr. Dawson married Marlene Brister in 1957. They had grown up in the same neighborhood. The couple raised their daughter in West Philadelphia and then Rosemont.
In 1957, Mr. Dawson became a member of what is now Wharton Wesley United Methodist Church in West Philadelphia. In 2003, he and his wife joined Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Ardmore.
Mr. Dawson was an avid fan of drag racing and a member of the National Hot Rod Association, which oversees drag racing in the United States and Canada.
As a young man, he won trophies for his drag-racing victories. Later, he became a spectator, traveling to major races. “He became acquainted with the professional drivers and their teams,” his daughter said.
Mr. Dawson had a brother, who died earlier. In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by three grandchildren; a great-granddaughter; a sister; three nieces; two nephews; and a large extended family.