Helena’s Cleaners: An American Journey to Success
Have you visited the Normandy Park Towne Center and wondered “what’s that big efficient looking operation in the southwest corner with racks and trucks, and sparkling clean clothes rotating through?”
That, my friend, is the home to Helena’s Cleaners, Plant Based Dry Cleaning which is not your ordinary family business, and yet, it shares roots with so many family businesses in our area. Roots in hard work, perseverance, a few ups and downs and two generations of family effort building an impressive operation that supplies pick-up and delivery service of plant based dry cleaning to an area spanning from Edmonds down to Tacoma!
Your Burien neighbor Will Waterstraat is the Managing Partner and second generation to continue building this Seattle classic, since taking the reigns from his mother, the iconic Helena, in Helena’s Cleaners. That’s her in the iconic logo, cutting an elegant figure reminiscent of an Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly, shades and all.
Will’s dad met Helena while serving in the military in Hawaii, where she had recently emigrated from China. She spoke little English, but he was fluent, kindling a romance followed by marriage and a move to Seattle when his service was up, together, they founded a dry cleaning business, including a store originally named Aloha Cleaners.
Sadly, the fairy tale story evolved to include a divorce, a loss of some of the businesses and Helena’s new position as a single mom of three, running a dry cleaners knowing very little English but with fierce determination to stay afloat.
“She taught herself to dry clean,” said Will, “and made us teach her English.”
Eventually, she changed the name to Helena’s Queen Anne Cleaners to protect against her ex-husband’s new creditors. Somehow, she made it through raising the three, and experiencing some good years and some bad years.
Will’s quiet pride in his mother comes through as he describes her dogged determination to enlist him into growing the business.
“That was not where I wanted to be,” he added.
It took several tries but eventually he relented and agreed to join in. It was then that his self-described “Prima Dona” attitude kicked in. He went to the Dry Cleaning and Laundry Institute and trained on perfect equipment, then returned to his mom’s shop and it was all broken in some way.
He soon learned that they lacked capital to buy all new equipment, but needed to maintain high quality service. He learned to press pants, then blouses and so on until he became proficient through sheer experience.
This is where the next level part of the journey takes shape. He was the “little guy’ but he began developing relationships with property managers and leasing agents and cultivating pick-up and delivery service, soon acquiring desirable routes. As that side grew, he found that the barrier to getting in really big LEED certified buildings were the petroleum based solvents used in traditional dry cleaning. This spurred a transition to plant based dry cleaning, healthier for the planet, healthier for employees and healthier for you.
The pick-up and delivery business caught the wave of growth in the Seattle area bringing along new plants, new routes and new volume.
“We were lucky to grow alongside Seattle’s growth, but there was a lot of hard work also” Will said.
The growth has been impressive, now serving over 120 buildings in Seattle including the Gates Foundation and Amazon. Such growth has now brought the business to our back yard, and as with so many others in the Normandy Park Towne Center, legendary developer Tom O’Keefe, was the liaison to bring Helena’s Cleaners here.
It’s clear that their intentional decision to make this plant based dry cleaning the cornerstone of their business has paid off. The solvent is derived from corn ether and bourbon mash, and with humble pleasure Will states that they are the only company in Washington to pay the premium for this greener choice. Grown on family farms in Nebraska, and produced in the U.S. it’s right in line with a sustainable vision for Helena’s Cleaners American journey to success.
Get a 30% Discount!
As your neighbors, Will, his wife Janae and even Helena herself (she still works a few days a week at 84!) invite you to discover the Helena’s difference while enjoying a very special discount of 30% off standard dry cleaning & shirt laundry – simply use coupon code BLOG30.
Stop by soon, or sign up for free pick up and delivery. The choice is clear, clean, green and made in America. Don’t you deserve the best?
NORMANDY PARK TOWNE CENTER
Open: M-F: 7am-6pm, Sat: 9am-3pm
19901 1st Ave S #401 Normandy Park, WA 98148
*After Hours Drop Box – contact us for access!
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