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Life & Times in The Industry: Personal Memories from Those Who Were There

Believe it or not, my tenure in the drycleaning industry started in 1974, at the age of 10. My mother, Diane, would pick us up at school and bring us back to nap in the warehouse on a big worktable that my dad, John, made while they rebuilt equipment. To this day, I remember each and every one of our initial customers and every old Cissell part number.
I remember my mother crying when my father donated $100 to the California Fabricare Institute — now the California Cleaners Association (CCA). She supported the association; the only problem was that Kelleher Equipment’s checking account only had $125 in it at the time!
Time passed, and our business grew. As I got older, I no longer wanted to work for toys and games. I had a bigger-ticket item in mind — namely, a new car. Dad responded by making me the company’s official permit-runner for clients. I had the bedside manner to deal with bureaucracy, and moved on to handle building departments, inspectors and regulators.
I would slip into heated regulatory hearings between college classes; they were always interesting — and often amusing. After I graduated and started working full-time, I began to see these regulatory meetings as the fight of my life. As a family-owned business itself, Kelleher identifies with the needs of the family-owned drycleaner.

Kelly KelleherKelleher EquipmentLong Beach, Calif.


I once had a separator clog and force water back into a cleaning machine that held President Reagan’s two suit choices to wear to a debate. Fortunately, this incident had a happy ending, and I wasn’t the first drycleaner to be hanged by the CIA. Mac Dee Cleaners may [also] have helped start perestroika by switching the White House drapes with the Soviet embassy’s — clandestine microphones and all.

Richard Ehrenreich, executive directorMidAtlantic Association of Cleaners (MAC)



[/NP]I spent my life in the drycleaning industry, starting with a German company that imported Cissell equipment to Louisville, Ky., in the 1960s. Traveling to America was a dream come true for me. I later joined Multimatic Germany and helped found its U.S. subsidiary, Fluormatic, in 1980 with Walter Fleischman. The plan was to sell nothing but fluorocarbon machines. When the solvent was banned in most countries, we went back to selling perc systems, and our Blue Tiger line became a legend.
After Fleischman left in 1985, I partnered with Joe Moser to take over Fluormatic. Joe and I enjoyed working in Chicago and with distributors all over the country; many became friends. In 2000, we sold Fluormatic. I’m still involved in the industry in Germany, but I will never forget what a great time I had in the U.S.A.

H. Paul KokerbeckKrefeld, Germany


Our family emigrated to the United States from South Africa in 1960, where my mom, Violet Janks, was a homemaker with a talent for sewing. She started Crystal Cleaning Center in San Mateo, Calif., in 1963. I joined her in 1986, after working for the FBI for 17 years.
One of my mom’s proudest moments was having  an article about her in American Drycleaner in the late 1980s. One of mine was receiving the CCA’s Drycleaner of The Year Award last year — 30 years after she received the same award.
One of my favorite things is interacting with customers. We’ve always given Smarties to the children who come to our store. A customer told me that as her little boy was going through his Halloween candy, he came upon some Smarties and exclaimed, “Look, Mommy! Drycleaner candy!” How sweet it is!

Lynnette WattersonCrystal Cleaning CenterSan Mateo, Calif.


My first recollection of American Drycleaner was when I was 10 or 11 years old — there was a picture of me on the cover sitting on a quarter-ton of pumpkins my father was giving away at Halloween. A friend and I were the labor force hired to pick two tons of pumpkins and wash them. Since then, the drycleaning industry has done a full circle.
From washrooms, petroleum solvent, carbon tet, ironing boards and foot-stomping presses, we evolved. Silicone, hybrid water cleaning, tensioning finishing equipment and airboards brought Guild right back. The technology is helping us manage the economic mess the country is in, with more control over quality, energy usage, maintenance, efficiency, regulations and training. My father always said, “Be in a position to manage change; don’t let change manage you.”

Jack AlquistGuild CleanersLodi, Calif.

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Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected] .