Horace Bowers, Sr. has made a tremendous impression on the historic Central Avenue corridor in South L.A. He and his wife, Alice, purchased a small dry cleaning plant in 1960 and today, they own the whole block.
The complex is the brainchild of Horace, 91, a savvy businessman who was saluted for his accomplishments by Councilmember Curren D. Price, Jr. In a ceremony on Nov. 21, Price hung a commemorative sign designating the establishment as Bowers Retail Square, which is located in the 2500 block of Central Ave.
“Mr. Bowers serves as an example that when you follow your passion, work hard and live your life with integrity, you will leave a legacy,” said Price. “The marker raised in his honor, will serve as inspiration for future generations to have the courage to stand tall and set out for what they want in life.”
The expansive building includes Bowers and Sons Cleaners featuring a state-of-the-art operation with eco-friendly dry cleaning and express VIP service. Also, located within the site are Amigo Discount Store, Simply Tattoo Supplies, E.D. Computers, Eloisa’s Boutique and a dental office.
The Bowers overcame many hurdles to ensure the longevity of their business. Horace came to Los Angeles by bus after graduating high school in Florida and staying briefly with his uncle in New York City. With only $28 in his pockets, he boldly set out to secure employment and housing before his money ran out.
“I walked the city and on the third day, I got a job at a restaurant on 42nd St. and Avalon Blvd. I also rented a room from the owner, which was actually an enclosed porch,” he recalled. But, the restaurant business didn’t hold his interest, so Horace decided he’d look into becoming a clothes presser.
Ever inventive, he established an agency and phoned different cleaners to ask if they needed help and if so, he could supply staff. After calling five places, Ace Cleaners on 4th Street and Olympic Blvd. replied that they had an opening.
“I told them I would send someone over and I was the one that was sent over. While in the work area, I accidentally stepped on a pedal. Steam came out and I screamed! I told the owner it was the first time I had been in a cleaners, but I needed a job,” said Horace with a laugh.
Despite the mishap, he was hired and the owner even agreed to teach him the cleaning business if he would work the next 30 days for free, an offer that Horace accepted. As he was working one day, a lady accidently stepped on his shoe and that woman turned out to be Alice, who quickly apologized.
Moving on to positions at other cleaners, Horace eventually landed “at the cleaners owned by Alice’s parents.” Later, her mother decided to sell the business and agreed that Horace could buy it.
“I wrote my father and he sent me money. But I didn’t know anything about running the business,” said Horace. “So, I told her mother that I would buy it if someone taught me about it for free for 30 days. She chose Alice to teach me and within a few weeks, we were married. The story just grew from there.”
Working closely with her husband was not a problem for Alice, especially since she was quite familiar with the operations. Her family owned a cleaners in Chicago prior to relocating to L.A. where the opened another one, which Horace obtained.
“I really like the cleaning business because I grew up in it. I loved it and we supported each other. He learned how to press and even though I could already sew, he taught me how to put it in pockets and coat linings in the outfits that I sewed,” Alice said.
“When we got our plant on Central Avenue, I handled the counter and he did the spotting and the pressing,” she added.
Yet, in a sign of the times, Horace encountered discrimination while building his business. At the time, mainstream financial institutions rarely gave loans to Blacks and Bank of America had already denied him. His fortunes changed after he hired a White young man as a presser.
“I gave him a job and after two days, he asked me to tell the bank that he had been working for me for 30 days. He said that he needed a loan because he had just gotten divorced and was broke and wanted to borrow money to go back to Texas,” said Horace.
“Even though I was with Bank of America, they had turned me down for a loan and I did not think he could get one. But, a few days later, his loan was approved. I wondered why, but I immediately thought of the color of my skin.”
Armed with this knowledge, Horace devised another route. He visited a different branch, picked up the loan papers, completed the forms and mailed them in.
“A few days later, my loan was approved and from then on, nobody saw us. I did mostly everything by mail,” he said.
Overall, Horace and Alice, who have been married for 69 years, have done exceptionally well as commercial owners with an impressive real estate portfolio and parents to three children – Clent Jr., Eric and Vivian – who also work in the family’s varied business concerns.
As for advice to others in business, Alice recommended, “Keep in mind that things work out best when you make the best of how they turn out. Always strive to be the best you can be. Pray to God for guidance and thank Him for His blessings.”
Sharing similar counsel, Horace said, “By the grace of God, I got here. When I saw all of the blessings that we have received, I thought that as we live the eyes of the world are on us.
“We will do good and bad things. If you can just make it so that it is the good that people notice, then you can succeed.
“And I think we must have done some good.”