“Here. Smell anything?”
John Heighington swings open the glass-faced door of the drycleaning machine right after it has finished a cleaning cycle.
Other than the sensation of heat, nothing. Particularly not that faintly-chemical smell familiar to anyone who has ever entered a drycleaners.
And that’s the idea. From an older machine which used the standard drycleaning industry standard formulation called PERC, short for perchlorethylene, Heighington’s new machine now in use at his Spotless Cleaners outlet in Terrace uses a formula which uses lighter-based hydrocarbon solvents.
“PERC’s been the industry standard for years. Eighty years at least. Actually, the first solvent in drycleaning was kerosene,” explains Heighington.
But PERC is going out of favour not only as awareness of chemical use evolves but how the equipment itself has changed.
“Now the industry has shifted to a tight, closed system for 100 per cent of the cycle,” says Heighington.
That, combined with hydrocarbons makes drycleaning safer environmentally, reducing hazards for employees and others.
“I don’t want our footprint to be any heavier than it should be,” said Heighington.
“It was the right thing to do.”
This particular machine has a completely closed-in system where the hydrocarbon cleaning solution is recycled and water and dirt pumped out to containers for disposal.
From Italy, the cost was approximately $60,000.
Heighington does expect the machine to be relatively underutilized for the local and regional market.
“I’d say this will be used about one-tenth of the time compared to what it would be in Vancouver,” he said.
“We want to be a well-rounded business offering laundry, drycleaning, what people expect,” Heighington added of why he purchased the new machine.
The hydrocarbon machine is also the first of its kind in Western Canada to have the option of using heat in the cleaning process.
“Heated hydrocarbon can take a stain out easier and the end result is better cleaning,” Heighington explains.
By his count, this new machine is the 12th in a line of machines his family has used here since moving to Terrace in 1966.
Not many northern B.C. businesses can trace their roots back to the Royal Navy of the late 1880s but Heighington can.
That was when great-great-grandfather James joined the Royal Navy at the age of 13 and found himself working in a ship’s laundry.
“That’s where he learned the laundry business and that’s where it started,” said Heighington.
From England, the elder Heighington and his wife moved to the Bittern Lake area of central Alberta where they homesteaded in the early 1900s.
But they escaped three winters by travelling to Florida to work at a Tampa hotel, earning enough money so that James could go back to his beginnings by opening up a laundry.
Two sons joined the enterprise, James and Frank, but they left to start a sawmill.
Frank then moved to Edmonton to work in the Royal Alexander Hospital laundry before persuading Frank to join him in a new laundry venture called Superior Linen.
James was killed in an industrial accident when he was caught up in a motor-driven belt he was repairing.
“I heard he had every bone broken,” said Heighington of the accident.
The business continued until the 1930s Depression forced its closure and the equipment was stored on the family’s Bittern Lake homestead until the late 1940s.
That’s when a new generation, another Heighington called James and brother Norman packed it up and took it to Prince George.
One branch of the family has stayed in Prince George to develop a successful large-scale laundry enterprise.
It was Norman, John’s father, who took one branch of the family to Terrace.
Since establishing roots here in 1966, a round of purchasing of competitors and name shifts have taken place over the years, resulting in Superior Linen becoming established as a large-scale commercial cleaner with Spotless Cleaners being the retail dry cleaning/laundry component in two locations.
Heighington has just finished closing one of the retail locations on Lakelse and is consolidating his retail operations in the Spotless building on Lazelle which also contains an embroidery section.
Operating retail services from one location makes the overall business more efficient for operations and more efficient for employee work time, he said.