- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

Carlos Castro never sits still. . The plant manager at Parkway Custom Drycleaning is weaving in and out of the rows of dangling clothes in the back of the Chevy Chase store. He is keeping an eye out for wrinkles and spots that weren't successfully removed from the garments the first time around.

"I'm the pickiest guy here," Mr. Castro says, inspecting a woman's pale green designer suit. He sometimes has garments recleaned or repressed four or five times until they come out spotless and completely wrinkle-free.

Mr. Castro, who started working at Parkway just over a year ago, handles the technical side of the business making sure the store's massive washers and dryers are running properly. But that's just part of his day. He also oversees much of the production as well as handling alterations and pressing of clothes, if needed.

"I have a tendency to help out to push the work along," Mr. Castro says.

On this day about 800 garments will be cleaned and readied for pickup or delivery the next day. Parkway, which has specialized in upscale clothes and designer brands for 76 years, has about a week turnaround time for each garment. Last week, the store cleaned close to 4,000 items.

Mr. Castro, 36, starts his 12-hour day at 5 a.m., usually checking reports to make sure deliveries will run smoothly that day. The free delivery service which goes right to a customer's home makes up a large portion of Parkway's business, says Parkway President Jon Simon. Typically, the company has three or four drivers making between 30 and 40 stops a day.

As the day progresses, Mr. Castro is on top of everything that's going on.

"I keep an eye on the day's production," Mr. Castro says.

The production process is an elaborate and lengthy one, and each worker has a specific responsibility within the overall process.

When clothes come in to Parkway, they get tagged and registered into the computer system, for easy tracking. Each garment is carefully inspected even before any cleaning is done. The workers are checking for anything out of the ordinary like holes, stains and missing buttons and making a note of it.

Once clothes are tagged, the cleaning process begins with the "spotter" who will use special chemicals to remove specific stains from coffee and ink to perspiration marks.

The garments are then put in individual bags and loaded into a heavy-duty dry-cleaning machine. No water is used in the dry-cleaning process but the garments are submerged in a cleaning solvent. Parkway's newest industrial-size washer is also a dryer so the load stays in that one machine from start to finish.

When the cycle is done, the garments then move on to the pressers, who hand press each item with a steam iron. Each piece of clothing is inspected several times before tags are removed and they are covered in plastic for pickup or delivery.

Mr. Castro knows every step inside and out.

It comes naturally to this New Jersey native who grew up in the dry-cleaning business. He even owned his own dry-cleaning chain before selling it two years ago. He got married and moved to Virginia, where he spotted Parkway's name in a phone book and called up looking for a job. The popular dry cleaners was hiring and Mr. Castro, with his lifetime of experience, was a good fit.

On this day, it's fairly cool behind the scenes of the 6,000-square-foot store. Mr. Castro says it usually gets very hot during the summer months but the workers at each of their stations have individual air-conditioning units directly blowing on them to keep them cool. Mr. Castro jokes that because he doesn't stay in one place all day, he doesn't usually get that luxury.

By midafternoon Mr. Castro is faced with a minor problem. Workers can't find two blouses that were supposed to be delivered that day. A quick check in the computer system shows the garments were there in the store, but no one could locate them.

After a few phone calls and some more double-checking, Mr. Castro tracks down the garments in one of the delivery trucks. Those cleaned garments were never scanned in the computer to indicate they were actually being delivered. Mr. Castro called the customer and arranged for a new time the driver could drop off the order.

"I stand in when problems arise," Mr. Castro says.

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