Webster’s Cleaners is on U.S. Hwy 70 near the intersection with N.C. 86. Hours are Monday through Friday 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays 8 a.m. to 1p.m. Webster can be reached at 919-732-2721.
Jerry Webster doesn’t mind if you use your sleeves to wipe your mouth. He also doesn’t mind that stain on your trousers, around your collar, or freshening up that rug by your door.
Since 1976, Webster’s Cleaners in Hillsborough has cleaned, pressed, starched, and removed stains from clothing, garments, and just about anything. “I think I have probably handled millions of pieces of clothing,” Webster said.
He is alone behind the counter, looking over the parking lot at U.S. Hwy 70, and he pauses for a moment, his face as audible as the words he just spoke.
Webster moved to Orange County from Durham County when he was a teenager and he graduated from Orange High School as part of the second class out of Orange High. “I worked with my wife’s uncle, in Roxboro and Henderson at a Martinizing Dry Cleaning store, right after high school. Working in that shop is how I learned the business,” says Webster.
It was during this time that Jerry met Sherry Smith of the late Mae and Dupree Smith. They married in 1966. “Oh, I guess you can say that I really got lucky when I met Sherry,” Webster says. Again, he pauses and looks out beyond the storefront and there is no need to ask this man how important his Sherry is to his life.
Along the way, the Websters had two kids, Mike and Missy. Missy lives locally and Mike is in Kentucky where he also is in the dry cleaning business, working for a franchise that has stores all the way into Florida.
Webster purchased his first dry cleaning shop from Jim Mangum in June of 1976. “I can tell you that this business has taken me on an unbelievable ride; I have done things that I never thought possible,” Webster says.
Over the course of his 36 years as owner of Webster’s Cleaners, Jerry has seen his business grow into five locations and then as of this past April, only the store on U.S. 70 remains. “At the height of business, I once employed several dozen employees at one time. Now, I have less than a dozen full and part-time help,” Webster says. “We are still in business and we offer full service. We can clean anything from fine rugs to fur coats to wedding gowns to everyday garments. We have a motto here that when the clothes leave our shop they are wear-ready,” says Webster.
From beside the computer, he looks over a stack of tickets and he points to the letter S. “That means that Sherry has personally looked over the clothes and they have to be good for her and that says a lot,” Webster says.
And while he would like to be busier and have business the way it was, Webster admits that he is just as eager to continue to build and to maintain friendships with new and old customers alike. While standing inside the shop, two customers came in the door, 15 minutes apart, and each called Jerry by his first name and he did the same.
“Treat me right,” says one customer, while smiling.
“I get to know the people and I am just so thankful that this community and town continues to support me and has supported me. When the economy went south, we didn’t really lose any customers, they just stopped bringing as much to be dry cleaned,” says Webster. Despite the drop in business for his shop, Webster eagerly says, “I just cannot imagine doing anything else, I really just love coming to work.”
Webster says the industry has changed and that one of the necessities of a good dry cleaning business is to have a well-trained spotter. “A spotter is someone that knows fabric, colors, and what chemicals can be safely used to get a stain out. Frequently, I will have other dry cleaners bring garments here for me to a stain or spot out,” says Webster.
Webster is well respected in the community and also respected for his service to the North Carolina Dry Cleaner’s Association Board of Directors, a position he held for several years.
Webster’s Cleaners is a long-standing business in Hillsborough and Webster acknowledges that he is proud of his continued presence in Hillsborough. “The business climate here has changed and is changing and I feel fortunate that we are still here,” says Webster.
While he is proud of his business, Webster admittedly is more proud of the relationship he and his wife share. “I just say again that I am lucky, lucky, lucky,” Webster says. “We work together and live together and have a beautiful family and she is just so important to me; I could not have lasted this long in business had it not been for her,” Webster says.
Again, he paused and there are not enough words to describe how a man might describe the love of his life and being married to her for almost five decades. Yet, the pause was long enough for this writer to pose a question to Webster that perhaps is the success to a five-decade-long marriage. I asked Webster about the laundry at his house. “It get’s done,” Webster says with a smile. “I suppose at some point we are going to need to put a washer and dryer in our house; it is something we have never had,” says Webster.
For a man that has handled over a million articles of clothes and has been married to the love of his life since he was out of high school, Webster seems comfortable around detergent and the spin cycle and recognizing luck that has lasted nearly 50 years.
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