THE TOUGH CUSTOMER- Compensated ruin: Cleaners takes care of unhappy customer

A few weeks ago, Mrs. Tough Customer came home pretty hopped up with some exciting news.

"Did you know," she asked, "that when the dry cleaner does your shirts, they just wash them in a washing machine? How is that dry cleaning?"

I guess it isn't, but since my shirts usually come back from the cleaners looking pretty good, I didn't really care.

As a result, however, the email I received recently from Lorna Martens, a professor of German at UVA, didn't surprise me.

A few weeks ago, Martens brought her silk-filled summer comforter to Evergreen Cleaners (formerly Countryside Cleaners) in Albemarle Square to have it dry cleaned. Martens says she discussed the care of the comforter, a treasured possession, which was marked "P" meaning that it should be professionally cleaned, in detail with the counter-person at Evergreen.

"I pointed out that it was raw silk-filled and had a ‘do not wash' care symbol in addition to the "P", she said, adding she told the cleaner, "Whatever you do, don't wash it!"

You can guess what happened next.

Martens picked up the comforter about two weeks later and, when she removed it at home from the plastic zippered bag in which the cleaners had returned it to her, "My light, fluffy, wonderful comforter had become a flat shell filled with hard lumps," Martens says. 

"What had they done? The satin care label, which used to lie flat over one corner of the comforter, was crumpled and wrinkled. And there were some dark stains on the comforter that hadn't previously been there. My comforter had been absolutely wrecked."

Martens says she called the cleaners immediately and left a message on their answering machine.

That weekend, a friend of Martens looked at the comforter and thought that the cleaners had washed it. For her part, Martens isn't sure what happened.

"Whatever they had done," she said, "they had certainly not paid attention to the care label. I decided that Evergreen owed me a comforter."

Martens never heard back from Evergreen, even after calling several more times and leaving additional messages for John Reid, whom she was told was the owner. That's when she called me. She also filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

Reid returned my call within an hour. He told me he wasn't the owner, but the "general manager." He also said he was not ducking Martens, but had never received a message that she had called. He also said he had received, that day, in fact, the complaint Martens had filed with the BBB, and would be getting in touch with her immediately.

Within two days, Reid had met with Martens, examined the comforter and handed her a check for $372 to cover its cost. He, too, is not sure what exactly went wrong, but he admits Evergreen "misprocessed" it.

"I'm happy with the resolution," Martens says.

Reid is not sure why he did not get Martens' earlier messages, but he agrees there was a breakdown of communication at his store. He says he will be investigating further.

Reid says dry cleaner complaints are fairly common, although this is the first one I have covered. Famously, an upset customer recently took his dry cleaner to court for $54 million over a pair of pants, but lost his case rather resoundingly.

Reid emphasized that the best consumer protection is to examine your clothes while still at the dry cleaner for any damage. He recognized the inconvenience of doing this, especially with run of the mill items like shirts, blouses, and suits, but says you should always do so for any item that requires special care, like Martens' comforter, or, obviously, for any treasured possession.

As for Mrs. Tough Customer, she seems to have recovered from her shock, but what will happen when she finds out that cotton candy is not really made from cotton? 

Got a consumer situation? Call the Hook newsroom at 434-295-8700x405 or e-mail the Tough Customer directly.



Is this what passes for news in your neck of the woods?

Betcha can't wait til Saturday when they wash the town's fire truck!

Zimmerman you really are a hack of a writer and we seriously hope you move on to something more important soon.

Well given that the story appears to have been published in 1901, I think that the subject of this new-fangled mercantile industry of "dry cleaning" was quite timely and interesting to the reading public. I mean, one can only take so many stories about obstinate apothecaries or truculent haberdashers.