DryClean Depot charges store owners that carry its name as much as $6,000 a month to pay for regional advertising. A Dec. 9 Washington Business article incorrectly reported that figure as an annual amount. (Published 12/13/02)

DryClean Depot has made a name for itself, both good and bad, since its first deep-discount laundry store opened six years ago. But now that name is almost gone. Nine of the area's 11 stores have decided to drop out of the California-run operation, with eight of them becoming a local cooperative operating under the name Zips Dry Cleaners.

"DryClean Depot was run out of California and we wanted to have the stores run locally," said Brett Vago, co-owner of the Zips on Connecticut Avenue NW. "We wanted to provide more services that we have not been able to do," such as alterations, he said.

A source close to the breakup said one of the issues was a dispute over the advertising fees the stores were charged by corporate headquarters.

DryClean Depot founder Randy M. Lievan charged store owners 5 percent of their gross sales, up to $6,000 a year, to fund regional advertisements. "They felt they wanted to cut their advertising fees, and I couldn't in all fairness cut them and still get the growth that we got," Lievan said. He called the parting "very friendly . . . I want nothing but the best for them, especially as I am their lender."

The chain of deep-discount dry cleaners won strong consumer support for its prices: 99 cents per shirt, $1.75 for each other garment. But it engendered considerable antagonism from the smaller laundries, prompting the Korean-American Drycleaners Association to raise more than $80,000 in its successful battle to limit the opening of large-discount dry cleaners in Fairfax. The opponents likened DryClean Depot to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other big discounters that move into an area and drive out smaller competitors with high volume and low prices.

The eight stores that now are part of Zips clean more than 10 million garments a year.

The name DryClean Depot will not completely disappear. Two stores -- one in Bethesda and the other in Owings Mills, Md. -- are keeping the name. The remaining store, in Waldorf, has gone out on its own as Dry Clean Central. Lievan said he hopes to open 20 more DryClean Depots from Baltimore to Richmond, although these may be considerably smaller than other outlets.

Lievan has a philosophical attitude about the parting of ways. "I think of it like our children: You raise them, they grow up and with the lessons we teach them, we hope they grow and prosper."