Wow ’Em (Part 1)


Showing plenty of Curb-Wow, Manuel Lopez (right), owner, and his son Javier (Chaz) stand by their attractive Southwestern-themed mural on the east side of their La Única Dry Cleaners in Santa Fe, N.M. (Photo: La Única Dry Cleaners)


There’s strong curb appeal at Emerson Cleaners located in Emerson, N.J., where third-generation owner Craig Goulian says, “a clean, modern-looking storefront is paramount to attracting customers.” (Photo: Emerson Cleaners)

Tim Burke |

You only have one shot to grab the attention of passersby

CHICAGO — Vaya in Spanish means Wow. Hang onto that thought.

Curb appeal can be defined simply as: You know it when you see it.

And when you see it, you feel it. It may be: funny, clever, cute, cool, stylish, but it’s got to have It.

Many drycleaning owners around the country pride themselves on their unique store look, one that expresses, or captures, what they do, how they do it, and attracts customers to their business.

Let’s hear from three drycleaning owners about the It ingredient that creates their own Wow.

First, we’ll swing on down Southwestern United States-way to Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, where Route 66 ambles past, bringing tourists and travelers.

The city’s website exclaims, “Artists and other creative dreamers all bring their culture, talents and experience with them and when they meet Santa Fe’s unique blend of Anglo, Spanish and native cultures against a backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo mountains’ majesty and the spectacular sunsets over the Jemez range — nothing short of magic transpires.”

Early Native American inhabitants called it “Dancing Ground of The Sun.”

Upon that “dancing ground” at 647 Cerillos Road sits a smart-looking, adobe-style building housing a cleaners that draws people to it, sort of like the setting sun or the starry night, not only for the quality of service, but also for the beautiful Spanish-flavored artwork viewed from the street.

Vaya! (Wow) — that mural on the outside wall catches the eye — that’s the first thing.

Then footsteps follow, of people drawing closer. And then comes the smiles, and lastly the hands that hold the cameras and iPhones that click away with joy and local pride.

Customers enter the business to drop off their clothes at the friendly, family-owned dry cleaner called La Única, which the owner says is Spanish for “the only one.”

Manuel Lopez, the owner of La Única Dry Cleaners, says his mom, Julieta, came up with the name. At the time, he points out, they were the only ones there who offered tailoring, and rug, suede and leather cleaning.

“My father started La Única Dry Cleaners in 1969 in Santa Fe. I was 16 years old at the time and worked alongside him after school and summers. After leaving college, I became his manager and subsequently the owner,” he relates.

About the curb appeal aspect of his store, he says, “Years ago, I installed a giant hanger over the front porch of our building. Our business logo includes a hanger with our name in the middle.”

The imaginative mural is a whole other story, as he relates: “I recently took advantage of a citywide program where kids involved with graffiti were paired with a local artist and encouraged to put their talents to work in a positive way.

“Using only spray paints, a mural depicting various popular characteristics of Santa Fe was painted on my building.

“It has been quite popular for residents and tourists alike. Often, people will stop and take pictures of the mural, some even going as far as to set up tripods for their cameras.

“I will watch from the back door and if I catch their eye, I like to fill them in on all the details behind the painting of the mural. I am very proud of my community and enjoy bragging about it whenever possible.”

Manuel, with his wife Jolene, indicates that their customers come to their store, “because of our service and quality of cleaning. They talk about the mural, only that they like it and locals know what it represents.”

The couple, along with their eldest son Chaz, relate that they have incredibly dedicated customers comprised of mostly Santa Fe locals. When they decided to put the mural up in 2015, they reached out to famed local artist and friend, Sebastian Velasquez (Vela), to paint something that reflected the culture and individuality that makes Santa Fe “the city different.”

Their daughter Juliet describes the mural: “Under a starry Santa Fe night sky, stands the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis, watching over the farolito (small paper lantern)-topped walls of the downtown pueblos since 1886, adorned with red and green Hatch chilis, that are the hallmark of the state of New Mexico.

“Wreathed in fire, towers ‘Old Man Gloom’ himself, Zozobra, the paper and firework embodiment of despair, who, since 1920, has been reborn annually and set ablaze on the first night of the historic Fiestas de Santa Fe, carrying with him all regrets of the last year that the locals of Santa Fe have carried, starting a new year fresh with hope and joy.

“The scene is purely Santa Fe, a colorful mix of both religious and mystic history, and one the owners of La Única and their customers couldn't be more proud of.”

The mural dominates the entire east side of the light-brown, earth-tone-colored building.

“We tell them about our culture and the pictures that represent this. Our customers and tourists see how proud we are of our business and our reputation in the community and hopefully this reflects in our presentation of this mural,” Manuel explains.

Elements of pride and local flavor aren’t the only things making curb appeal Wow. There’s also being clean, sharp-looking, and modern, too.


“I feel a clean, modern-looking storefront is paramount to attracting customers if you are in a retail location. If your business exterior is not kept up to date, then your image will reflect that,” notes Craig Goulian, the owner of Emerson Cleaners in Emerson, N.J.

“I am the third generation in the drycleaning business started by my grandfather in 1903. This is one of many stores and plants my family has owned through the years. We have had huge operations running 24/7 365 with a central plant and as many as 30 drop stores in New Jersey and New York City also serving cruise lines and the military, out of Hoboken, during the war years. We have been in this location since 1986.”

“It’s absolutely key to building and maintaining existing and new customers with an attractive storefront,” he points out. “If they are shopping around, what else would attract them to your location except the look?”

Check back Thursday for the conclusion.

About the author

Tim Burke

American Drycleaner


Tim Burke is the editor of American Drycleaner. He can be reached at 312-361-1684 or [email protected]


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