Bankhead Cleaners is on the same plot of land on Newnan Street where Baskin built it in 1946. It is one of only a handful of traditional cleaning establishments that still does things the old-fashioned way. While most drycleaners are only storefronts where customers drop off and pick up clothes, Bankhead still washes, presses, mends and de-stains, all on site, using an array of machinery, both ancient and modern.
When Moses Baskin established Bankhead Cleaners, it was a laundry only — the dry cleaning equipment was not installed until later. Today, the business uses much of that same equipment to literally clean tons of clothing each month. In the face of competitors using modern, automated equipment, the store has survived thanks to the appreciation of its customers for the “extras” that only a family-owned business can provide.
“I grew up working in the business from the time I was 12 years old or so,” said Ed Baskin, who, along with his sister, Charlotte Griffin, now runs Bankhead. “I cut my teeth working on washers and dryers with my dad. I didn’t like it much, but he said it would get in my blood. I guess he was right.”
Moses Baskin was born in Carrollton, just as his father and grandfather had been. But he did not stay here. Taking a job as a salesman for Colgate-Palmolive, Baskin roamed the South. When his travels took him to Murfreesboro, Tenn., Baskin met Edith Hawkins, whom he married just before the war. Soon after, he was traveling again – this time aboard an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic. When the war was over, and he was back in Carrollton to raise his family, Baskin decided he was done with traveling. While still working for Colgate-Palmolive, “he decided on building a laundry and try to work that into a career over time,” said Ed Baskin. “It wasn’t long before the new business required him to be on hand all time.”
Baskin stayed on the job until 1980, when he retired and handed things over to Ed. Charlotte came on board later. And Edith Baskin continued to have a role in the business until she was 90. She passed away in August.
The term “drycleaning” is something of a misnomer. The process is not “dry” – it does involve liquids. Instead of water, though, a chemical solvent is used to lift soil and stains from fabric without the need of putting clothes through the harsh process used by home washers and dryers.
“The term drycleaning refers to the feel that the clothes have after the wash,” said Baskin. “The clothes are put into a sealed machine filled with the solvent and detergent and is washed for several minutes.”
When that’s done, the clothes go through an extraction cycle in which most of the chemical is pulled from the clothes. Baskin says the chemical evaporates quickly in the open air, which means they feel dry to the touch, even though the fluid is still present.
The clothes then go through a dryer that pulls out the rest of the fluid. The store uses special machines to collect as much of the fluid as possible, so that it can be filtered and re-used many times. It saves money for the store, and it saves the environment, Baskin says.
When a customer drops off a batch of clothes, the store workers check the pockets for coins or items that might have accidentally been left in. Those items are tagged with the same inventory control numbers given the clothes, which then are examined for spots. Depending on the source of the stain – organic or chemical – the store has a variety of chemicals called spotters that can remove most of them.
“Chemistry is a big part of the business,” said Baskin. “Recognizing stains for what they are – food on a tie, etc. – leads you to a product choice for removal. Tannin from coffee, tea and many other foods require spotters that are vastly different from protein digesters required to remove blood or dairy products or solvents to remove grease.”
If Baskin sounds like a chemist, he is quick to note that the cleaning process is not exact. And labels sewn into clothing are no help, because sometime the manufacturer’s instructions are ambiguous, misleading – or just plain wrong.
“With today’s blends of fabrics, the normal remedies for stain removal often don’t work, leading us to take more drastic measures. We usually talk to the customer before proceeding beyond the norm.”
While the business is still run by the Baskin family, Ed and Charlotte clearly feel that everyone who works at the store is family as well. It is this kind of attitude and attention to detail that has kept the business in operation for 66 years.
“We have many customers who have traded with us for 30 and 40 years,” said Baskin. “All the customers make up our real social life. We live through their joys and sorrows and they do the same with ours.”