National Clothesline
National Clothesline
Celebrating a century in the same location
On the first night of the 2012 World Series, many Californians made plans to root for the San Francisco Giants at home or in a pub with close friends.
In Santa Cruz, however, several dozens of people chose to watch the game while also enjoying some cake and champagne at Classic Vapor Cleaners during the company’s 100th anniversary celebration.
“We had about 140 people show up to a podunk drycleaners on a rainy day when the World Series was going on,” laughed Pamela Whittington, the current and fifth owner of Classic Vapor Cleaners.
The business was originally started in 1911. It was simply named Vapor Cleaners originally as a reference to a steam method of drycleaning that was popular at the time.
In 1912, the Army Corps of Engineers completed a new building where the company moved to and has now remained for a century.
According to Whittington, the plant was originally created for the intention of cleaning military uniforms.
“It’s got a helicopter pad on top and remnants of a bomb shelter. It’s kind of crazy,” she said. “This building is as straight as an arrow. It’s concrete with concrete walls about 18 inches thick. It is such an awesome building.”
Certainly, the building and its secrets within were part of the reason for the large turnout in October.
“People don’t get to go behind the doors of drycleaners,” Whittington explained. “I have so much fun taking people behind the door because I love their expressions. Their little mouths just drop. They’re blown away.”
The feedback was quite positive. Ironically, many people were surprised at just how clean a drycleaning plant can be.
“One lady said to me, ‘It’s so bright and clean in here... it reminds me of See’s Candies.’ I kind of looked at her in dismay,” Whittington recalled. “From my perspective, I wonder: what were they thinking? Because, if I drop a wedding dress on the counter, it better come up clean, you know?”
Part of the reason that Classic Vapor Cleaners has been successful for over a century is that it goes to great lengths to educate customers.
“We really, really promote education at the counter,” Whittington said. “We encourage some tricks at home that they can do. Not everything needs to come to us. We’re forthright. If your husband is shaving and he’s got an all-white shirt on and he cuts himself shaving, I don’t necessarily have to see that shirt. Get some hydrogen peroxide to blot it out. I know that’s really different and we shoot ourselves in the foot, but that’s how this company has stayed alive.”
Whittington, who purchased the plant over a year ago, comes from a background of processing clean rooms for the pharmaceutical and electronic industries.
“In a clean room there is high-security process piping. It’s like 316 stainless piping. Exotic gases was my specialty. It was interesting,” she said. “The process side has given me a good solid background for this side. Drycleaning is way more fun. It’s way more rewarding. It’s harder work and it’s longer work.”
 Drycleaning is also more interesting. Whittington would have never guessed what the most common item she’d find in the clothes of garments sent in to be cleaned would be: Viagra.
“We find so many of those little purple pills,” she laughed.
But, that is part of what makes it so much fun. Drycleaning is a personal industry where you really get to know your customers.
“If you want to know anybody in a community, hang around at a drycleaners,” she said. “Every movie star, every politician, every local person in a band... you really get to know where all the dirty laundry is buried.”