Soldiering on28 September 2020
The owner of a Toronto laundry that experienced some pretty tough times in 2017 had the proverbial icing on the cake applied in 2020 with the advent of Covid-19 and the mothballing of the hospitality sector. Kathy Bowry reports
Admitting that things had indeed been challenging following a devastating fire in 2016 and now enduring – yet surviving – the loss of a swathe of hospitality business due to Covid-19, Tim Topornicki, president of textile rental company Topper Linen and Uniform Service in Toronto, refuses to be despondent and assures LCNi: “We’ll soldier on.”
Topornicki, a TRSA member and former board member at the association, which represents textile care businesses in North America, is remarkable for his positive attitude and optimism as he reviews the current situation, which many would class as disastrous, saying: “It will be OK, we’ll get through it...We’re going to be working very hard around the clock to keep it going.”
After the fire, which decimated one of Topper Linen’s buildings four years ago, the 12,000 sq ft structure, built in the 1850s, was condemned the next day. Yet it took six months to get a demolition permit and an environmental assessment from the City of Toronto. The building was finally demolished in the autumn of 2017. Following on from that experience, in a rare lapse from his habitual optimism, Topornicki criticised the red tape he encountered from the local authorities and told New Pathway website in 2018 he believed “that on the environmental side we’ve gone too far”.
He explained how he had 40 bore holes on the 6,000 sq ft lot and was held responsible for the whole history of the property which had operated for 100 years before it was bought by Tim’s father, Edward Topornicki. The ground was also contaminated by other businesses in that industrial area and it was difficult and expensive to remove and neutralise it. Topornicki told New Pathway that if there is water in bore holes, the owners cannot put it in the sewer and have to take it to the treatment facility.
He attributes the many vacant properties in the Junction area to those reasons and cites the example of a former paint factory, idle for 15 years, that had been sold twice with the owners had just giving up on developing it as the cost of the clean-up were too prohibitive. “The only way to be able to afford to clean up the soil and all other costs for an acre of land,” says Topornicki, “is to build at least a 25-story condo on it.”
However, despite red tape, environmental complications and Covid-19 worries, Topornicki is back to his positive self as he tells LCNi: “We are rebuilding the factory after the fire; in fact, we put in first pieces of steel today. We are one of last surviving Canadian laundries left – most are now US-owned.” So what kit will be going into the new laundry? Topornicki says it will be American-made as Canada doesn’t manufacture any itself. He confirms the brands he already utilises such as Braun, Ellis, Brim among others will have their place in the new factory.
Moving on to current worries about the novel Corona virus and its effect on his business, he says: “With Covid-19, most laundry businesses are in the same boat.” He told LCNi that there is a lot of food & beverage work in Toronto saying: “We are located near downtown so we offer them quick response times and delivery.” However, since lockdown he has seen a “devastating” drop to 10-15% of the poundage he would be processing pre- Covid-19. Topper has had to lay off 80% of its own staff and he admits some may not come back.
“Food and beverage businesses are very precarious and I cannot see a quick return to normal business. It is going to be a slow return and I think we are looking at recession if not depression. Realistically it could take two years to get back to what we had 2021 before people start eating out again and 2021-22 to regain consumer confidence.”
Nevertheless, Topornicki says it is what it is with Covid-19 and Canadians tend to be grateful for what they have. He explains that Canada has universal healthcare provision much like the UK’s NHS which is free at point of service. ““At one time every hospital had its own laundry, but now they all outsource to private laundries and it would be difficult to return to strictly healthcare Government laundries now.”
As for recruiting laundry workers when the tide turns and production picks up, he has no worries, saying Canada is attracting more immigrants now than the United States. “Toronto is a city with diverse cultures and all the festivals to celebrate them.
“Will we come out if this? One hundred per cent we will. The family has the finances to see Topper through this crisis and out the other side. We got through SARS – this will be longer – but we will soldier on.”
Topper Linen and Uniform Service is an independently owned service that has been going since 1956, processing linen, uniform, and textile products, plus floor care and restroom services, from Toronto and the GTA, to London, Niagara Falls, Barrie, Kingston and Ottawa.
The company was established by Ed Topornicki in the basement of his home on Fern Avenue. Alongside his wife Anne and mother Josephine, he was driven by entrepreneurial spirit, and purchased $2000 worth of linens and uniforms to service his first seven customers. In 1967, he bought a small lot on 6 Mulock Avenue and built a 5000-square-foot laundry. Through six decades of growth, Topper has continued to expand and still remains in the Junction area of Toronto. Today, Ed’s son, Tim Topornicki continues to lead the company.
Topper operates out of a 64,000-square-foot facility, employ over 125 team members, and maintain 25 route service vehicles. With most textile rental companies owned by U.S. corporations, it is one of the few independently owned Canadian commercial laundries left in Ontario.
Tim Topornicki believes strongly that Topper’s continued growth has been based on a simple philosophy; honesty and integrity. “We take pride in the relationships we have built with our customers, and will never promise something we cannot deliver. The Topper Team works smart to be recognised by our clientele as the best linen, uniform, and mat rental provider in southern Ontario,” he says proudly.
After the fire Tim Topornicki wrote saying:
“I have been overwhelmed at the kindness of this industry. People have been contacting me from all over the USA and Canada. They have offered any assistance they could provide, as far away as Portland, Oregon. Some want to jump on a plane with staff to assist in crisis management and a strategic plan going forward. I am overwhelmed with emotion at what a wonderful group of people this industry is, and how everyone rallies when one of their friends is down.”
Addressing TRSA members specifically he wrote: “Thank you to all of you who have reached out to offer assistance in our time of despair. It is very evident how strong our industry is on both sides of the border, and we at Topper appreciate your kind words and encouragement. It is the people of this industry who create so much passion, dedication and sharing, that I am proud to be part of for the last 40 years. Topper’s strong family values, and commitment to our customers will prevail. We will continue to respect our customers with our commitment to honesty and integrity. We will soldier on.”