by Bryan Boyhan
There’s a television commercial for a men’s clothing store where we are told, if we do business with them, we’re going to like the way we look. Guaranteed.
It’s a similar experience patrons of the Sweetwaters French Style Dry Cleaning in Wainscott are told they can expect. And while owner Charles Garland may not guarantee you will look great, he says the clothes you bring to him will look great when he finishes with them.
Garland, a second generation dry cleaner, said in an interview the quality of his cleaning is a paramount concern.
“I don’t want people to get home and be unpleasantly surprised,” said Garland. “The clothes should be ready to wear when you take them out of the bag. No pressing, no surprises.”
Garland has owned the Wainscott store since moving to the East End six years ago, and, recognizing the sensitivity of dry cleaners in the community, in that time he has worked hard to build an environmentally sensitive business. In fact Sweetwaters is the first dry cleaners in the state to be labeled as carbon free, by carbonfund.org., an organization which works to encourage businesses to become carbon free or carbon neutral.
“We’re not carbon neutral yet,” said Garland, “but we’re getting there.”
Among the efforts they have made is improving the handling process and packaging. Every packaging product they use, says Garland, is bio-degradable, including bags that are corn-starch based.
“It’s a little more expensive,” said Garland, “but it’s something we take very seriously. By eliminating [plastic bags], we’re trying to lead the way.”
Also, the laundry bags the company uses are a cotton/linen blend, not nylon or plastic.
Sweetwaters has also moved into using hydro-carbon-based solvents, a more environmentally-sensitive approach to cleaning than tetrachloroethylene, or perc, a chemical widely used for dry cleaning.
“Hydro-carbon technology has really come into its own,” said Garland. “We’re always willing to look at something new.”
“A lot of cleaners and venders cite the higher costs associated with doing things more environmentally sound,” said Garland, “but we’ve built our business on it.”
“We all drink from the same water table, my family in East Hampton included, so we’re not going to put anything in the water that’s harmful,” he added.
Garland’s family started its business in West Islip, which is where Charles learned the trade.
Since starting in Wainscott, Garland said he has noticed “a constant growth curve,” which he attributes to long hours and efforts to make sure his customers remain satisfied.
“We’re not a 25 or 30 year old business,” he said, “we haven’t seen a downturn.”
He remains pretty optimistic about the East End economy, and acknowledges that all businesses go through cycles. Noting that the local economy is seasonally driven, Garland observes that he and others “have four distinct cycles each year.”
Recently, Sweetwaters has begun marketing in the Sag Harbor area. With longtime village business Whalers Cleaners closing earlier this year, Garland is “excited” about his growth potential in the local market.
“I’ve already received a tidal wave of business,” he said.
The result, he said, is a need to add a shift at the cleaners.
“Getting new business and maintaining quality is very important,” he said.
The other side of the business is handled by Garland’s wife, Karmen. In addition to cleaning, Sweetwaters does “just about everything having to do with sewing,” short of actually designing and cutting the garments.
“Karmen handles all of the tailoring,” said Garland, “and she has two assistants who work with her.”
“We do just about everything, from hemming slacks to re-designing a gown,” he said. “We also hem curtains.”
When asked what his business’ greatest strength is, Garland responds, “Value, value, value.” He said other cleaners may be less expensive than Sweetwaters, but stressed his attention to detail is where the real benefit lies.
“When you go on a trip and you’re pressed for time and you’re getting ready and discover your slacks are not pressed correctly — what have you saved?”
And with full services offering alterations as well, maybe Garland actually can guarantee you’re going to like the way you look.