A local dry cleaner maintains quite a resume beginning in 1933. Protective Cleaners opened a South Wayne Street location with $500 of borrowed family money and one employee.
The business moved in 1940 to South Wilkinson Street as an established dry cleaning and full service laundry vendor.
Protective was one of the early groups at Hatcher Square Mall by 1965. Twenty-four years later the dry cleaning business shifted again to its current main location at 1000 N. Columbia St.
The Owen family has seen it all the last 80 years and is celebrating that milestone this month.
Tony Owen said his daughter Britt started working at Protective at age 13. Son Trey came up in the business as well and splits operational duties with his sister.
Family always sticks together. Trey said his father’s expertise gets called on routinely because he’s seen it all.
“It helps you get through,” Owen said. “There’s a determining factor that you’ve got to make it, so we do.”
Trey said the dry cleaning machine and solvents are continuously evolving. Operations are more user-friendly compared to foot operated presses years ago.
From technology to style changes, Protective Cleaners found the secret to relevancy.
The day runs smoothly with several of the 10 current employees’ experience. Two ladies have spent a combined 41 years on the production and customer service sides.
“We’ve got a great group of people that have been loyal to us through good and bad times,” Trey said. “Those two think the same way I do.”
Protective survived fabric fads and service alterations. The business used to handle the old hospital and several local motels’ laundry.
Business changes as modern professional style does.
“People have changed what they wear. It’s more casual now days. People don’t necessarily wear coats and ties,” Owen said.
Now, they focus on full service cleaning of shirts, bedding and even leather and suede. Professionally trained staff can handle the tough stains others turn down.
“It’s necessary now to have someone handling the clothing that knows what they are doing,” Owen said.
Protective Cleaners subscribes to the first name basis customer model. Trust can make or break that first experience as locals entrust their prized items.
“You work hard for that suit or shirt, and you want somebody to take care of it,” Trey said. “You want to trust who you are handing it to.”
Business hasn’t been great recently, but a direct mail campaign playing off the 80th anniversary has generated interest. Weekly drawings give away some cleaning and laundry services until the end of March.
The family also operates a smaller location at 644 S. Wayne St. as well as two coin laundromats and a self-service car wash.
Sponsoring local youth teams, high school sports and charities fall into that sense of family and vested community interest. Protective looks to remain an active savior for Middle Georgia’s fabric needs.
Call the North Columbia location at (478) 452-6045 or the South Wayne spot at (478) 452-4626.
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