Groton — Remo Fusconi watched Friday as a crew demolished the business he opened in 1949.
"Look, that whole wall is coming down," Fusconi, 88, said. "That was my office."
The town began leveling the former Fusconi Cleaners, the abandoned property opposite the main gate of the Naval Submarine Base, as part of a larger project to improve the intersection.
The State Bond Commission awarded $455,000 to the town last year to buy the 1-acre property at Crystal Lake Road and Military Highway. The $5.5 million project calls for the realignment of Military Highway with the base's main entrance.
The dry cleaners sat vacant for 10 years and had been deemed a hazard.
Fusconi, born and raised in town, started the business in a building smaller than 600 square feet. He married his wife of 57 years, Mary, the same year, he recalled.
The business did so well he expanded one year after opening. He built around the original structure, making it five times its original size, 3,500 square feet.
"We had a lot of work," he said. "We did laundry, dry cleaning, tailoring …"
The cleaners reached the height of business during the Korean War, when sailor after sailor brought in clothes from the base. At one time, Fusconi's employed 14 people.
Over the years, Fusconi believes he saw tens of thousands of people. Maybe even more.
He closed the cleaners on April 15, 2003. His wife was sick and the shop needed renovating.
"I figured if I rejuvenated it, I would have to stay here and work it. And my wife came first," he said.
She had Alzheimer's disease. He cared for her for 12 years before she died.
After he left the business, the grounds became overgrown and the building suffered from neglect. Fusconi said he tried to sell it but couldn't; there were too many environmental hazards.
Then the town bought it.
"I'm sad and happy," Fusconi said. "I'm glad the Town of Groton bought it. It was a burden owning a piece of property for 10 years and not being able to anything with it."
But he added, "It brings back a lot of memories. It's given me a good life."
He said he needed to watch it come down.
"I wanted to. I just wanted to," Fusconi said. "I felt as though I owed it to myself."