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OMG! I must have been living under a rock, like Bugs Raplin, to have missed this startling development in the dry-cleaning world.

As a poor dry-cleaner’s son, I was stunned — STUNNED, I tell ya — a couple of weeks back when I was rifling through the ad inserts in the Sunday Tribune. Right there, in a P&G brandSAVER flyer, was a pitch to entrepreneurs to open a Tide Dry Cleaners business, with a related come-on to hook existing dry cleaners to convert to Tide.

The overture to existing cleaners may have been an attempt to salve the wound inflicted by the very idea that one of the country’s premiere wet-cleaning products had invaded dry cleaning but had the opposite effect of rubbing salt into the wound.

I couldn’t have been more surprised than if I had tried the youth fad of swallowing a Tide Pod — and it got stuck in my craw.

Actually, the outrage that Tide bullied its way into what once was a thriving niche for small businesses does stick in my craw.

Raised in and around a family-owned shop, I learned to loathe Big Dry Cleaning, a threat surpassed only by the arrival of washable, permanent-press clothes back in the day. Dad lost sleep over both, I assure you.

Of course, claims of clothes that could be pulled out of the dryer, perfectly wrinkle-free and ready to wear, are as oxymoronic as the term tight slacks.

The big dawgs in the dry-cleaning sector could do a haphazard job and still steal customers with the lower prices because of their economies of scale. They sometimes were even more challenging opponents than mammoth operations that charged more and still swiped customers.

For example, during my delivery days, when I drove the Tighe’s Arrow Cleaners van in South Sioux City, Neb., to pick up and deliver clothes, I used to get a few items every once in a while from my high-school girlfriend’s mom.

During one stop, I asked Rosie whyinhell she never entrusted us with her fancy clothes. Without missing a beat, she said the silk presser at a rival cleaners did a superior job with her favorite, and expensive, togs.

Read between the lines: That cleaner charged more (true fact: much more), so Rosie thought that the more you pay, the better quality you get.

It was one of those rare times in life in which God blesses you with the perfect comeback. Rosie just about swallowed her tongue when I told her that the woman who pressed silks at that place in the afternoon worked at our shop in the morning — pressing silks.

Rosie still didn’t hand over her silks, but the explanation blew her argument out of the water, IMHO.

Comes now Tide, muddying the waters, touting its mantra: “We’re changing dry cleaning for good.” Another slogan it uses: “If you’re not in love with your dry cleaner, Make a Clean Break.”

Stunned, as I said above, STUNNED, that Tide was invading the dry side, I checked to see when P&G started this new venture. I realized I was out of touch when I learned that Tide started franchising cleaners back in 2009, which is why I mentioned that I have been living under a rock, crowded next to Bugs.

This insert ad obviously was Tide’s attempt to TKO family-owned shops like Walmart whacked moms and pops. Although the Coulee Region is void of Tide Dry Cleaners so far, three have taken root in the Twin Cities metro area: Apple Valley, Edina and Maple Grove — all upper-middle class, with Edina being the most posh.

As far as I’m concerned, Tide is all wet, and, although we do our laundry with it, it ought to stay out of the dry-cleaning turf.

BTW, dry cleaning isn’t actually dry but rather, uses solvents with little moisture content. I didn’t know that when Dad bought Arrow Cleaners and added his name as the prefix. Rather, my literal thinking fostered my assumption that the process somehow cleans clothes without getting them wet.

That opposite became eminently clear one Sunday when Dad stopped to check things at the shop and discovered that he had forgotten to turn off the valve that was supposed to add just a touch of moisture to the solvent. The clue was that the liquid in the machine was milky white instead of chocolate brown.

The only way to drain the swam instead of dumping the expensive solvent was to run loads of wash until the clothes absorbed the water and left the solvent high and dry (an industrial lie or, to put it on a gentle cycle, a fib). So Dad fetched me from home and we spent all day Sunday, running the same two loads over and over.

We didn’t use customers’ clothes per se but rather, clothes that customers had abandoned by not picking them up in more than 90 days. Proof that the process worked was the fact that the clothes shrank to mere miniatures of their original sizes — Goliath’s outfit would have fit David’s to a T.

I suppose Tide has figured out how to keep things dry, too — obviously without using Tide itself or its highly vaunted Pods. So this obviously amounts to an essay yearning for the good old days.

But it makes a guy wonder what’s next, having Mr. Clean wash cars? Well, I’ll be danged — researching Tide Dry Cleaners, I discovered that P&G has branched into what used to be family-operated car washes, too, a venture it began in 2011: “Mr. Clean CarWashes”?

Well, as an umbraged dry-cleaner’s son, all I can say that, no matter what P&G tries to be better — God only knows what its research and development teams could do with Always, Bounty, Charmin, Febreze, Crest, yada, yada, yada — it never will be best.

As First Lady Michelle Obama exhorted us during an address at the United States of Women in June 2016: “Be Better.”

Of course, 45’s first lady recently tried to co-opt the message with her partially plagiarized “Be Best” initiative. But I won’t mention that, because I don’t want to air 45’s dirty laundry — or dry cleaning, for that matter.

Small, family-owned shops still are the best, IMHO.

So, even though I often live and die by coupons, I won’t use the coupons in the ad insert for 25 percent off of my first order and 15 percent off of my next order, because Twin Cities metro is too far away for a dry-cleaning run, and we’ve got plenty of quality, small dry cleaners right here in River City.



Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

(2) comments


Chippy will be along shortly to proclaim that, due to a deep state mainstream media conspiracy, you've deliberately misspelled his name as Bugs rather than Buggs.


HA! Well, close, Cassie —- spelled it that way cuz he bugs 🐛 🐜 me.

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