Percy Nicholson, a retired co-owner of two West Baltimore cleaning establishments where he cared for the clothing of African-American performers who played the fabled Royal Theatre, died Monday of heart failure at Manor Care Falls Road.
The Ashburton resident was 92.
The son of a truck driver and a housekeeper, Mr. Nicholson was born in Baltimore and raised on West Lanvale Street.
He was a 1939 graduate of George Washington Carver Vocational High School. In 1946, he went to work at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant, where he worked in the open-hearth furnace until retiring in 1983.
Mr. Nicholson and his brother, Roland Nicholson Sr., purchased Provident Cleaners in 1947, and later expanded the business to include two dry-cleaning establishments in West Baltimore, on McMechen Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
They later changed the name to Nicholson Bros. Dry Cleaners. Roland Nicholson died in 1990, and Mr. Nicholson closed the business in 1999.
"Nicholson Bros. was more than a business. As an anchor for black-owned businesses during the height of the glory days of Pennsylvania Avenue, the stores were always full of customers," said his nephew, Roland Nicholson Jr., a lawyer who lives in New York City.
The nephew said the store's customer base included African-American physicians who worked at the old Provident Hospital and black lawyers and businessmen who had offices in the area.
The tailors who worked in the two shops handled all alterations for the Pennsylvania Avenue clothing stores, said Roland Nicholson Jr.
Other customers who used the cleaners included actors and musicians who performed at the Royal Theatre.
"Entertainers like Arthur Prysock and Baltimore's Billie Holiday had their clothes cleaned between performances at the Royal," said the nephew. "Frank Robinson, Lenny Moore, Walt Bellamy and John Mackey were among the athletes who were customers."
He added: "The stores were also a stopping-off place for politicians seeking support among the black community. Theodore R. McKeldin had his picture taken there. Tommy D'Alesandro Jr. stopped by to greet a store full of customers."
The former Ruxton Avenue resident, who later moved to White Chapel Road in Ashburton, was married for 53 years to the former Thelma Drummond, who died in 1995.
Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday at Douglas Memorial Community Church, 1325 Madison Ave.
Mr. Nicholson is survived by a son, Percy Nicholson III of Baltimore; three daughters, Jackie Murray and Vonzela Anderson, both of Baltimore, and Zelda Jones of Warminster, Pa.; two sisters, Naomi Pearson and Mary Caldwell, both of Baltimore; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun