SIX months after a disastrous fire destroyed Nowra's only dry cleaners, Vicki Lowbridge and Lisa Etheridge have risen from the ashes to launch their own new business, Shoalhaven Dry Cleaners.
The long-term employees of the Lyrebird Dry Cleaners were left devastated when the business was destroyed in a fire in the Nowra CBD in the early hours of January 28.
After months of trying to keep the business operating, without a location, often using their homes to keep hold of valuable contracts, the pair decided to "go out on their own".
They have opened their new business on the south side of Bunnings, behind the Earnest Arthur Cafe in South Nowra and have been up and running for about four weeks, during which time the response has "been amazing" according to Vicki.
"Yes we worked at Lyrebird for a number of years but we are now a totally separate entity," she said.
"The Shoalhaven needed a dry cleaner. We have the only dry cleaning machine between Wollongong and Ulladulla."
The pair are proud to be among a few female owners and managers in what is "largely a male dominated industry".
"As much as women know clothes and materials and work in the industry, it really is male dominated," Vicki said.
"In the Dry Cleaners Institute of Australia we are quite rare, to be a woman owner and manager and operations manager. We're proud of that, being a women's only business.
"Lis has been amazing, there is no way I could have done this without her."
After working from multiple locations, including Cambewarra and Wandandian, for months just to keep the business going, they say it is fantastic to be working "in the one spot" and to "have a new home".
"It's just brilliant," Vicki said.
As much as women know clothes and materials and work in the industry, it really is male dominated. In the Dry Cleaners Institute of Australia we are quite rare, to be a woman owner and manager and operations manager. We're proud of that, being a women's only business.Vicki Lowbridge
"And the response from customers has been fantastic. All very supportive."
Along with driver Bruce and their seamstress, who unfortunately is stuck in lockdown in Wollongong, they are looking forward to a new beginning in their new location.
That includes a new dry cleaning machine, affectionately known as Billie, after Bill from United Drycleaning Supplies (UDS) who has been "instrumental" in helping Vicki and Lisa get the business back up and running.
"My husband Graham has been wonderful, building a number of things we needed, the owners of the building have been fantastic, so supportive, local plumber Tim Snape has been brilliant, doing all our beautiful copper work to give us the industrial look work we wanted," Vicki said.
"We can't thank everyone enough."
She said they had planned to have an official opening but had simply been "too busy".
"With the work we have with the navy we have been flat out," she said.
That includes looking after the navy's camp kits, consisting of 200 sleeping bags, 200 raincoats, 200 pairs of pants, 200 vests and 200 jackets.
"They dropped the truck off and said 'see you in as hour'. I asked why and there was another whole truck arriving," she said.
They have also been busy cleaning the overalls used by crews in training at the Creswell fire ground as well as numerous items from the public.
"We have had about nine wedding dresses in which is pretty incredible for this time of the year and with all the COVID restrictions," she said.
"That was a real boost for our confidence.
"When you hear of a fire in a dry cleaners the first thing you think about is 'was there wedding dresses inside?'
"Unfortunately, yes there were, but those who lost their dresses have been really good and very understanding."
Vicki said she has been buoyed by the way others in the industry have chipped in to support them.
"Nowra needed a dry cleaners," she said "it's been nice that Ulladulla and other laundromats have been referring work to us.
"They can't do what we can do so it's nice they are doing that."
She said while some have "baulked" at the idea of having to travel to South Nowra to the dry cleaners they "see it as an advantage".
"People say it's so far out - it's not really and the trade off is easier parking, right at the door, not having to carry heavy items up Kinghorne Street and honestly the rent here compared to in town is like chalk and cheese," Vicki said.
"And with this latest COVID scare people can come here. Just cross the driveway with a mask on and do their business. They don't have to wander through a shopping centre or crowded streets."
The pair have already established agents for a drop off and pick up service at St Georges Basin, Sanctuary Point and Vincentia.
"We have a new one opening up on Bolong Road, Bomaderry and are looking for an agent in the Berry area," Vicki said.
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