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Adrian Walker

Undoing their 'Best'

When they saw the letter from Boston Magazine earlier this month, Elias and Caroline Mavroidis thought they had arrived.

Completely without warning, their family business, South End Cleaners and Tailors, had won a "Best of Boston" prize as the best neighborhood dry cleaners. The letter came with a certificate and an invitation to a fancy party to mingle with the rest of Boston's finest.

The next news to arrive wasn't nearly as gratifying. Their landlord stopped by to tell them that he was increasing their rent from $2,900 a month to $5,000. If they chose not to pay, they had to vacate the Tremont Street property by Oct. 1.

That's wasn't all the bad news. The landlord, Wayne Doherty, also told them that he planned to open his own dry cleaners at the same location, once they departed.

Elias Mavroidis stood next to his "Best of Boston" certificate Saturday, trying to make sense of what was happening to him.

"It's 700 square feet, for God's sake," he said. "As it is, we're paying like it's Newbury Street, and now he wants to double that."

Mavroidis said he and his wife had tried for months to reach their landlord, whose legal residence is listed in Moody, Maine. They say their calls and letters went unanswered until the day Doherty showed up to talk to them. The visit was followed by a formal eviction notice.

"He said to us, 'I'm going to open a cleaners,' " Mavroidis said. "I said to him, 'You're crazy, you're 60 years old and don't know anything about cleaning,' He just wants to steal my customers because I have a good reputation. It's crazy."

I attempted to get Doherty's side of the story yesterday. But he turned out to be a man of few words.

"I have nothing to say," he told me repeatedly when I asked about the eviction. At one point, he complained that I was only hearing one side of the story. But when I pointed out that I was calling him for his side, he hung up.

Mavroidis is a native of Greece who played professional basketball there. After his career was cut short by injury, he moved to the United States. He served a three-year apprenticeship in a cleaners in Roslindale before he and his wife, a Roslindale native he met here, opened their business in the South End. Obviously, they have done well, at least until recently.

The cleaning business starts early and ends late and takes a toll on a young family like the Mavroidises. They have two daughters, ages 8 years old and 11 months, and they are barely kidding when they say the girls have grown up in the store.

"I never attend school meetings; they don't see me at all," Elias maintains. "My father in Greece is 80 years old, and I haven't seen him in five years. I don't have a life. I just try to make ends meet and support my family."

They have been advised that they don't have much legal recourse. They might be able to forestall the inevitable for a while, but they can't afford to pay $5,000 a month. Barring a change of heart -- on the part of a landlord who has shown little heart -- they will have to move.

They say they will definitely stay as close to their current location as possible, close to their customers, their fan base. How well their business will do in a new venue is anyone's guess.

"Everybody likes us to stay here," Elias said. "We have a relationship [with the customers]. That's why we want people to hear us, to hear our voice."

Caroline Mavroidis said the logistics of moving in a month's time are all but impossible, especially since they really don't know where they're going. But her family is learning a hard lesson about the American experience. Sometimes working hard and doing well just aren't enough.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.

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