An Arizona company owns Tuchman Cleaners now, but most people around Indianapolis still think of the dry cleaning chain as a native son. I know I do. Tuchman has been laundering and dry cleaning clothes here for more than sixty years. It was sad learning that Tuchman’s owner, National Dry Cleaners, has filed bankruptcy in Phoenix. Tuchman, with its 30 Indianapolis locations, is being put up for sale as part of the bankruptcy plan.

In my bankruptcy blog ATA Business Bankruptcy Plan Blown To Bits, I explained that, in a business bankruptcy, debts are not discharged by the court. Instead, assets are sold to raise funds with which to pay creditors. Part of the reason for any business to file bankruptcy is to “buy time”, enough time to sell some of its assets. In the case of ATA, the efforts to sell assets while keeping the business running did not work. In More Companies Coming Out The Other Side of Bankruptcy, I talked about three companies which were able to reorganize through the bankruptcy process and continue to do business with their customers. I’m hoping the National Dry Cleaners story will end that way as well. Meanwhile, I’m rooting for Tuchman stores to keep open, perhaps under new ownership. National Dry Cleaners CEO Ken Lyng remarked that daily operations at Tuchman will not be interrupted.

Having served as a bankruptcy attorney in Indiana for more than twenty years, I’ve helped clients through each of these steps of the bankruptcy process. As part of that process, a company or individual will file a statement about the reasons they chose to turn to the bankruptcy courts for help. National Dry Cleaners lists increased energy costs, environment cleanup costs, and the general economic downturn as factors that hurt their business. Although my work concentrates on personal bankruptcy and small business bankruptcy (rather than on national chains), there are many elements common to all cases of bankruptcy. You’ll notice that the three main causes cited by National Dry Cleaners have nothing to do with mismanagement, theft, or scandal. In other words, the problems were not due to mistakes made by the leaders or employees of the company. All the causes originated outside the company and were powerful enough to impact the company negatively.

I see this very often when I work with small business owners who are forced into bankruptcy through circumstances basically beyond their control. Whatever the size of a business, even with dedicated efforts to run it well, it can be overwhelmed by outside forces. It’s so apropos, in a way, for us, particularly those of us in Indiana who think of Tuchman as uniquely Hoosier, to hope is that the bankruptcy process will help National Dry Cleaners make a “clean” start.