Paid in full
When I opened my email inbox and saw the subject heading "Carriage Cleaners," it was like old times. Carriage is part of the Cooke family cleaning empire, with which, in my first incarnation as the Fearless Consumer, I had several close encounters. Now that I'm back, it looks like we're picking up where we left off.
Waddill Stewart had emailed me to say that two pairs of pants he'd dropped off at Carriage on April 5 were missing in action, and he couldn't seem to interest any employees, or manager Todd Cooke, in finding out where they went.
His story was familiar. With slight variations, I'd heard it three times before. First, in September 1997, Clearview Cleaners— which is partly owned by the Cookes— lost Elizabeth Ostrowski's comforter. Repeated phone messages went unanswered. When she finally managed to speak to part-owner Nick Theodose, he simply informed her there was nothing he could do about it.
Theodose agreed to talk to me, but only in person. When I showed up for our appointment, he refused to answer any questions and had me kicked— er, escorted— out. Ostrowski ultimately sued in General District Court, and was awarded the cost of the comforter, cleaning bill, and court costs.
In a "Best of the Fearless Consumer" compendium [C-ville, January 26, 1999], I covered two more Cooke-customer sagas.
In the first, Ray Paquin left a brand-new blue shirt at Carriage Cleaners that, by the time he picked it up, had turned purple. That was on a Saturday. Because he'd be flying home to New York the following Monday, Paquin tried to resolve the matter by phone and called two different Cookes at home. Both, he claims, became hostile and hung up on him.
Because I suspected defective dye, however, he was able to return the shirt to J.C. Penney and get a refund. So there's no way of knowing what, if anything, Carriage would have done for him.
In the second instance, Christine Ellertson took eight silk garments to Cavalier Cleaners, where they came back allegedly smelling like they'd been singed. The employee agreed that something had gone wrong, and the clothes were cleaned again— but the smell persisted. She asked for the manager's name and number, but was told that he would only meet with her in person.
She insisted on getting a number, and claims that "many" calls went unreturned. Finally, she wrote the Better Business Bureau. A member of the Cooke family offered to clean the items a third time, but she refused, asking, amazingly, not to be reimbursed the $400 or so the clothing was worth, but only $32 for the cleaning bill.
I wrote a letter seeking a response, but received nothing. Because Ellertson, who was a UVA student at the time, graduated and moved away shortly thereafter, I have no way of knowing how, or even whether, the situation was resolved.
So now we come to Waddill Stewart. He claims that when he arrived to pick up his pants and the employee couldn't find them, he was simply shunted aside while others were waited on. Finally he left his number, after being told someone would call him, but he says no one did.
Several days later, he says he went back and was told that the manager would call, but again, no call. He decided to call and speak to someone before hazarding another trip, and, once again, was told the manager would call. Guess what? He didn't.
Stewart went back for a third time, got a claims form, and left a note for Cooke in which he said that if the matter weren't cleared up soon, he'd go to whatever agency regulates cleaners— then mentioned my name, which, I feel sure, is one familiar to the Cookes. Whether this note carried any weight or not, he finally got a response: Todd Cooke called Stewart early the next morning, and a day later, issued a reimbursement check for $125.
Does this mean the Cookes have decided to make customer service a priority? I'd like to think so— but only time will tell.
Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902.