James and Lilly Itwaru are Long Island transplants. That fact isn't so unique. But how they ended up in Spring Hill is a story worth repeating.
"We came here for the quietness," said James.
After building a life in the banking industry in Port Jefferson Station, Long Island, the Itwarus wanted a calmer hometown environment to raise their two sons, one 14 and one just a year old at the time.
Not so uncommon for those living in big cities.
What is unique is where they shopped for their new community. Flipping through the pages of a home magazine, given to them by a friend who lived in Dunedin, James and Lilly fell in love with Spring Hill.
"That's what brought us here," James said with a laugh. They fell in love with the images of the neighborhoods. So they sold their house in New York, came to Florida with cash in their pockets and a dream of a new and better beginning.
But finding a job proved more difficult than finding the right house. "I don't think Spring Hill was part of America," James said with a chuckle. South American natives, the Itwarus had a perception of opportunity in the United States. Jobs were plentiful everywhere in America, he thought. "But there were no jobs here."
The couple hadn't realized that Spring Hill, at the time, was mainly occupied by retirees. It quickly became evident that the Itwarus would need to be resourceful (a given), and creative (also part of their natural makeup).
And, while doing their laundry one afternoon in a laundromat near Highpoint, James got an idea.
He had no background in small business and certainly no experience running a laundromat. But he did have the burning desire to build a new life.
They heard about a laundromat in Spring Hill that was for sale. "The machines were old," James said, "but the price was right." So they bought it, replaced the machines, and began learning the business through old-fashioned, hands-on training.
"And we started to make a living," James said.
Then in November of 1994, James decided he wanted to branch out into dry cleaning. "There weren't that many around," he remembered. "So I got in my car one day and started looking for a location."
He found it in the Mariner Crossing Shopping Center at the corner of Mariner Boulevard and Northcliffe Avenue.
"We had looked at other places," Lilly said. But they were drawn to that location, what James described as the heart of Spring Hill.
They filled the empty building with equipment, learned in one week the fundamentals of dry cleaning, and became one of Spring Hill's most popular dry cleaners.
It is the best of all worlds, the Itwarus said of their partnership. Lilly handles the laundromat and James runs the dry cleaner.
James is so passionate about the business, Lilly said, that he still remembers his first customer. "He told (James), 'this is the best dry cleaner around!'"
Their foundation in the community began, of course, with the laundromat. But Lilly said it is still that way, since new customers discover the laundromat first while they wait to move into their homes.
Both work together, accepting dry cleaning and laundry drop-offs at either location.
The Itwarus' secret to longevity certainly has something to do with their deep commitment to customer service and care. They are friendly, approachable, often greeting customers by name or conversing about a common interest.
"Saturday is like a barbershop here," Lilly said, referring to the cleaners. They don't do any cleaning or pressing on Saturdays but customers drop off or pick up their cleaning. "And they stand around and chat."
Dry cleaning, in simple terms, involves running the garments through a chemical bath. "When you take them out, they are disinfected, the odor is removed. Grease … it takes away all of that," James explained.
Spring Hill Cleaners uses green-friendly chemicals. They use hydrocarbons instead of Perc, which is used by many cleaners and has been thought to have dangerous affects on the environment. Spring Hill Cleaners stopped using Perc two years ago when they replaced their machine.
Larry Sturgeon, a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, Withlacoochee Chapter, brought in a replica jacket to be dry-cleaned. The original design was dated back to 1775, the earliest date where he has been able to track his heritage.
"It is a replica of the actual uniform that was worn," Sturgeon said. "This is the uniform that George Washington picked for his troops."
He added, "We get involved with a lot of events and do a lot of charity work." In fact, the organization, which combines Hernando and Citrus counties, was doing a demonstration for Gulf Coast Academy on Oct. 15.
Sturgeon stumbled on Spring Hill Cleaners because it was near his home. His impression, after his first visit, was positive. "They'll be doing all of my dry cleaning now," he said.
It is about the customers, the Itwarus agreed. "If a customer comes in and I'm pressing in the back, I'll look up and wave to them."
The people drive his enthusiasm. "They make time go by," James said. "I like talking to them."
Both Spring Hill Cleaners and Spring Hill Laundromat are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Biz at a Glance
Biz at a Glance
Name: Spring Hill Cleaners / Spring Hill Laundromat
Address: 4205 Mariner Blvd. and 7399 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill
Telephone: (352) 683-7081 and 683-9581