Taken to the Cleaners

Remember that Adrian Walker column from a couple days back about the plight of Elias and Caroline Mavroidis, owner-operators of South End Cleaners and winners of a 2007 Best of Boston award? Walker’s piece had obvious good guys, an even clearer bad guy, unconscionable injustices, the works. It was so satisfyingly simple it even fooled us. Well, turns out there’s an absurd saga behind the affair that involves, among other things, angry in-laws, alleged death threats, police reports, and one hell of a slow-witted painter.

The gist of Walker’s column was that the Mavroidis’s landlord, Wayne Doherty (cast as the villain), told the couple that they had a choice between having their rent raised from $2,900 to $5,000, or being evicted. Worse, Walker reported that Doherty intended to open his own dry-cleaner shop in the same location, cashing in on his former tenants’ clientele and reputation. Doherty stayed inexplicably mum at the time, but called back yesterday angry as hell and ready to tell his side.

For starters, Doherty said (more shouted) that when he originally negotiated the five year lease for South End Cleaners, there was a “crystal clear” understanding that the contract would never be renewed. At the time, there was already a dry-cleaner operating out of South End Cleaner’s current spot. After that operator decided not to renew her lease, Doherty said he would have taken it over immediately if he weren’t so busy with “other things.” He says that when he negotiated the deal with Louis Dakoyannis, Elias’s brother-in-law, everybody understood the Mavrodis’s were getting the spot for five years and no more. Dakoyannis said the same thing.

The Mavroidis’s, of course, beg to differ, saying not only that there was never any such understanding, but that Dakoyannis was uninvolved in the negotiations. The owner of Baker Street Cleaners in West Roxbury, and husband of Caroline Mavroidis’s sister, Dakoyannis employed Elias in his shop before the Mavroidis’s opened up in the South End. Doherty says Dakoyannis hammered out the negotiation as a favor to his in-laws; the Mavroidis’s say he had nothing to do with it.

When I called Dakoyannis, things only got messier. A decidedly surly character, Dakoyannis lectured me on the foibles of the media before getting around to saying that he had, in fact, negotiated the lease and it was agreed by all that there would be no renewal after five years.

There’s just one problem: Dakoyannis hates his brother-in-law. A lot. “I ended up getting screwed by them,” Dakoyannis said. Long story short: Dakoyannis used to do business with the Mavroidis’s, now he doesn’t. Everyone has their own account of why, but frankly it doesn’t matter. Just know it’s so bitter that Dakoyannis’ wife and Caroline, her sister, haven’t talked in five years. On top of that, Caroline accuses Dakoyannis of lying about negotiating the lease because he’s plotting to take over the shop with Doherty.

Things escalated on the afternoon of August 15, when Doherty and Elias met on Springfield Street, near South End Cleaners. Doherty says he was leaning back against a car, minding his own business when Elias came out of nowhere, cursed at him, threatened his life, spit in his face, and would have started clobbering him if it weren’t for a painter who got in between them.

“He said, ‘Fuck you.’ Really vile, really visceral,” Doherty said.

Elias counters that all he said to Doherty was: “I don’t want to talk you, what you’re doing is unethical, you’re trying to steal my business, and my livelihood, and how I’m going to feed my kids.”

The police were called to the scene and a report was filed. In it, an independent witness reported Elias to have told Doherty, “You are a mother fucker; You’re a marked man. Do you know what a marked man is?”

When I called Elias today to ask him about the police report, he flatly denied it, alleging that Doherty coerced the witness, an employee of his, into making up the quote. Then he yelled outside at someone to come and talk to me. It turned out to be the painter who got between Doherty and Elias.

The painter, who requested anonymity because he works for Doherty, told me that he was the one who “broke it up” and that nothing really happened. How, I asked, can you break up a fight that doesn’t happen?

“It just looked like it was going to be a little too much. I just stood in between them and let the words fly. At least no fists flew,” he said, adding that never heard Elias say, “Fuck you” or anything about a “marked man.”

Then I asked him if he thought it was ultimately necessary for the police to be called. “At the time I thought so,” he said. When I asked why, after a tense moment of silence, he said, “I’m going to give the phone back now,” and handed the receiver to Elias.

Who’s telling the truth in all this? Who knows. In the meantime, Elias reports that all the positive press–and there’s been lots–from Walker’s black-and-white column has helped him and his wife land a new spot across the street from the place they’re about to be evicted from.
This would be especially good news, if the couple didn’t have a second shop at 297 Huntington to fall back on, a fact omitted or missed by Walker.

Ah, the power of the press.