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Port dry cleaning business stands the test of time PDF Print E-mail
Written by JOE POIRIER   
Tuesday, 21 November 2017 18:44

Harborview Cleaners has survived fashion trends, government regulation to remain a part of city’s downtown economy

    For nearly half a century, Harborview Cleaners has been removing stains from dirty laundry for Port Washington residents.
    “What goes on in the cleaners, stays in the cleaners,” owner Barb Bahr said. “After working in this industry for all these years, you hear some pretty interesting stories about how the stains got into the clothes.”
    January will mark the 20th anniversary of Bahr taking over ownership of the dry cleaners from her father Orville Bathke, who opened the business in 1970.
    “Dry cleaning at that time was a hot commodity, and it started as a one-hour Martinizing chain,” Bahr said. “Eventually, my dad decided to get out of the franchise and we became Harborview Cleaners.”  
    Bahr noted her father also owned a real estate agency next door to the cleaners called Home Realty.
    “He actually never did any cleaning but he was in here all the time to keep track of the industry,” Bahr said.
    Bahr began working at the cleaners as a high school student. After studying marketing in college, she returned to the business at 134 E. Grand Ave., Port Washington, as a manager.
    “I never thought I would be doing this, but it’s a good business to work in. I guess I’ve been here for this long because of the people,” she said. “We’ve always had a good clientele. Just seeing the people progress over the years and seeing them have kids. Now some of the kids are adults, and they’re my customers. It’s quite a unique and neat community feeling for me.”
    According to Bahr, her clientele consists of a broad range of customers from business professionals to stay-at-home mothers. She also noted the current trends in professional business attire have affected the dry cleaning industry.
    “Causal Fridays turned into business casual workdays, which really hurt this industry for awhile,” she said. “Fortunately, I’m seeing a lot more suits coming back because a lot of young men are wearing suits and ties again.”
    Bahr said her female clientele are her most consistent customers because they always want to dress nicely, but she mentioned newer fabrics allow for spot washing stains.  
    “Fabrics also change over the years. Now, there are more washable fabrics that don’t need to be dry-cleaned,” she said.
    Since the 1990s, Harborview Cleaners has been the only dry cleaning service in Port Washington. Bahr said a lot of dry cleaning stores are now satellite drop-off points, with the clothing taken to another location to be cleaned
   “That’s kind of the trend in this industry. There are a lot of regulations that have resulted in people losing their businesses or people wanting to retire and nobody wants to get into the business.”
      According to Bahr, the regulations began in the late 1990s with the Dry Cleaner Environmental Response Fund. The program reimburses the cleanup costs of contamination caused by the release of dry cleaning chemicals and solvents.  
    “We have to pay 2.8% of our revenue every quarter to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue for a license fee,” she said. “The regulations really impacted how this industry is shaped today. Years ago, there weren’t nearly as many rules. I really don’t know how far the regulations will go in the years to come.”
    Even with the tough regulations and changing trends in fashion, Bahr said the dry cleaning business is still a vital component in the service industry.
    “People obviously need the service. There is always going to be a stain they can’t get out with their hands or washing machine,” she said.
    When she isn’t busy talking to customers about their stains or inspecting the fabrics of their clothes, Bahr enjoys taking in a view of the lake from the storefront of Harborview Cleaners.
    “It’s my million dollar view, that’s what my customers always say,” she said.  “I appreciate the view every day. I can tell you when the sun is going to come up and what time of year it is.”

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