Madison Heights

Iconic Krosstown Kleaners has potential new owner

The iconic Krosstown Kleaners in Madison Heights may soon have a new owner.

Current owner Van Preston has accepted an offer on the building, located at 1400 Madison Avenue, from the owners of Onix Restaurant. Onix is also located on Madison Avenue.

The contract is contingent on inspection and loan approval, but Preston is hopeful that the sale will be finalized soon. Her original asking price was $300,000. 

The building is a legendary piece of history for both Memphis and Madison Avenue. It first opened its doors in 1910 as a bakery but operated as Krosstown Kleaners from 1944 until roughly five years ago.

Its large, vintage marquee is a rarity in Memphis today. A smaller sign below it has proclaimed, "Jesus is Lord," in bold block letters for decades.

The building sat vacant for nearly two years before Preston, a country-rock singer and real estate agent, purchased it.

She left the signs intact and said the marquee still works perfectly. She also said they attract curious passersby and potential buyers who then stop for a closer look at the building.

The owners of Onix did not respond to High Ground's request for comment on the pending sale, but Nate Mitchell, another potential buyer interested in the property, did agree to comment.

“This building has that iconic Jesus sign ... the sign that everyone in town has seen," said Mitchell. "You notice the sign before you notice the building. This building would make a great house or maybe a store. Either way, I’d love to see this building restored to its former glory.”

The interior of Krosstown Kleaners at 1400 Madison Avenue shows signs of decay, renovation and former life as a well-loved dry cleaner operating in Memphis for 70 years. (AJ Dugger III)

end of an era

The building was originally established as a bakery in 1910.

In 1944, Joseph and Jack Cortese bought the building and started Krosstown Kleaners.

Madison was the main east-west commercial artery through Memphis for much of the twentieth century, so the location proved perfect for their business.

When the Cortese brothers bought the building, it was surrounded by a variety of other small businesses and medical services, much like it is today.

Over time, the brothers expanded the building and the business. They sold both in 1984, but successive owners continued to operate as Krosstown Kleaners until roughly five years ago. 

All together, Krosstown Kleaners served Memphians and Madison Heights for 70 years. 

The interior of Krosstown Kleaners at 1400 Madison Avenue shows signs of decay, renovation and former life as a well-loved dry cleaner operating in Memphis for 70 years. (AJ Dugger III)

Since Krosstown Kleaners

Preston said that while the building sat vacant prior to her purchase, it was broken into and vandalized several times. She still felt it was a sound investment.

She originally planned to open a coffee shop and worship space but soon felt the area could benefit from a music venue. 

“I still wanted a Christian influence in the community,” said Preston. “So when I changed directions I decided to try a Christian bar with music venue.”

Preston is from Arkansas and released a self-titled country-rock album in 2005 that was nominated for the 2007 Country Album Of The Year in Europe by the European Country Music Association. She wanted to use her passion for music and experience in the industry to help local performers.

“This way local artists could promote themselves and people could enjoy great music," said Preston. "I was also considering having a church service every Saturday night.”

Preston said her original coffee shop plan also included a house of prayer. She felt faith-based programming was a perfect fit because of her own beliefs and the building’s iconic signage.

When funding and support for her efforts fell short two years ago, Preston hired caretakers to renovate the building for use as a warehouse. That effort was also slowed and then halted due to lack of funding, and Preston decided it was time to move on. 

At the moment, there's debris and items stored throughout the building. However, renovation is certainly possible, and a tour of the building shows that previous owners did do some maintenance. The bathroom is still intact and works fine.

Preston estimates the property would take $100,000 worth of investment and renovation.

“At this point we're years away from doing anything we want to do," she said. "But it's a real cool old building."

She's hopeful it'll have a new owner and new life soon.

Read more articles by A. J. Dugger III.

A.J. Dugger III is an award-winning journalist and native Memphian who joined High Ground as lead writer for its signature series, On the Ground, in August 2019. Previously, he wrote for numerous publications in West Tennessee and authored two books, “Southern Terror” and “The Dealers: Then and Now.” He has also appeared as a guest expert on the true-crime series, “For My Man.” For more information, visit ajdugger.net. (Photo by April Stilwell)
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