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The Sun-Sentinel talks about La Mar 1 Hour Dry Cleaners:

It's the fabric of their lives:
Family dry cleaners endure

La Mar 1 Hour Dry Cleaners, celebrating 50 years in Miramar, is a family-owned business and micro-economy of the demographics they serve.

Jim Falkowski, of La Mar, says he owes his success to the community that supports him and to loyal employees.
Falkowski says his business is built on referrals and reputation passed down from one generation to another: owner to owner, customer to customer.

Not only is providing an excellent pressed shirt necessary to keep consumers satisfied, but experience and a more than casual interest in fabrics is essential, Falkowski said.

"My dad was my teacher," he said. "He taught me all he knew about fabric. There's a lot more to this business than just putting the key in the door."

Falkowski cut his teeth on the dry cleaning business his father, William Falkowski, founded in 1962. Customers knew Jim Falkowski as a boy and later as a teenager working at La Mar's for the summer.
The establishment serves a mostly residential clientele in Miramar, West Park, Pembroke Pines and Hollywood with a niche in the cleaning and restoration of smoke-damaged clothing and fabrics.
"We took a big hit in '07 and '08 like everyone else," Falkowski said. "From waiters and lawn crew to the car salesman and nail salon person, everyone was hurting."

Falkowski avoided layoffs and instead cut back hours. When an employee left, the position wasn't filled.

Attending trade shows and staying educated about the latest in natural materials, synthetic fibers and fabric blends keeps Falkowski current with trends.

Falkowski remodeled the storefront lobby and upgraded equipment that runs more efficiently. He invested in software that e-mails customers when their clothing is ready, and he's in the process of revamping the website.

"This is a high-volume, high-labor business," Falkowski said. "You can't disappoint the customer."

Ckent@tribune.com 954-356-4662 Twitter @mindingyourbiz

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What the Hometown Herald has to say about La Mar...

Like Going Home

 

by EILEEN SOLER
Special to The Herald

The neon sign boasts service in one hour, but for Jim Falkowski service comes more frequently than in 60-minute intervals — it’s a lifelong commitment and a 37-year family tradition.

His La Mar 1 Hour Dry Cleaners is the oldest dry-cleaning establishment in Miramar, opened in 1962 by Falkowski’s father, Bill, when cow pastures lined University Drive and Miramar was little more than a passing breeze along U.S. 441.

Today, the operation is more than a successful business — it’s a familiar smile, a kept promise and a neighborhood guarantee.

Jim Falkowski, to whom the elder Falkowski passed the operation in 1984, said no better reasons explain decades of customer loyalty.

“One of our greatest compliments is that we have employees who have been here nearly 30 years and third-generation customers coming in every day,” Jim Falkowski said. “That’s got to say a lot.”

Ask Jim for a list of faithful customers, and he rattles off names like a who’s who of the Miramar-Pembroke Pines area.

Ken Graham, general sales manager for Maroone Chevrolet, and Al Pratt, manager of the Hollywood-based Four Christian Stars gospel group, are two of scores of customers who come into the shop at least once a week for clean clothes and conversation.

Customer Luis Vivar said he discovered the cleaners five years ago after moving to Pembroke Pines from Miami.

“Going to Jim’s place is like going home,” Vivar said.

Vivar said he and his late wife, who died last year, were always treated like friends and family.

“Ask anyone at the cleaner’s about my wife, and they will all give you a memory,” Vivar said. “I can’t say that about any other business.”

Located between two short strips of stores at 6430 Pembroke Road, the 1960’s motif shop is a 1990’s operation with a computerized management system that includes a barcode system to easily locate everything from underwear to evening gowns.

Ten workers, including 27-year employee Inell Brown of Davie, toil daily at one of more than a dozen laundering machines. This hiss of steam and muted slams of iron pressure on inch-thick cotton are interspersed with laughter and chatter among the employees who consider themselves family.

“We’ve watched each other’s kids grow up, including Jim himself. We’ve gone to each other’s weddings and birthday parties. It’s just a wonderful place to work,” Brown said.

Bill Falkowski, 78, and husband of Jim’s mom, Irene, said he never gave much thought to how the business evolved into a neighborhood institution; it just happened.

The Falkowskis have been sponsors of youth league softball teams in Carver Ranches and Miramar for 35 years. They advertise weekly in area church bulletins and school newsletters, and head up a scholarship program at Miramar High School.

“There’s no secret recipe. It’s just a matter of doing right by people — giving them kindness and a good product at the same time,” Bill said.

Jim said his dad still comes by the shop every so often to chat with employees and customers.

“We’re like a microcosm here — like Mayberry RFD, where everybody knows and cares about everyone else no matter what,” Jim said.

But Jim Falkowski didn’t always dream of being a part of it.

He enjoyed working at the cleaner’s as a youth, and learned the business through hands-on experience, he said. But he remembers going to college in the late 1970s as an accounting major and coming back with a chip on his shoulder and a bearded face, determined to buck the shop rule that required a clean shave.

“Boy, was I trouble. But when I pushed, my father pulled me back. He taught me the good reasons why we do things a certain way,” Jim said.

When he took over the business five years later, the same employees who defended the no-beard rule talked Jim into growing it again.

Falkowski said the biggest compliment he gets from customers is that there’s only one La Mar 1 Hour Dry Cleaners.

Falkowski said customers have said goodbye to him when they move from the Miramar area only to return a month or two later requesting that he set up shops where they live, from Weston to the beach and from Miami to Coral Springs.

“But I decline. We’re not a corporation, we’re a family,” Falkowski said. “It’s a big thing that I’m here every day for the customers and me. I like the job, and I certainly like the company.”

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