Color Photo of Oxford Cleaners Manager Rene DigalBy Claudie Benjamin

When you think about how many people live on an Upper West Side block, that’s an awful lot of clothes, bedding, rugs and sometimes even furs that need to be cleaned. Rene Digal has been store manager since 2006 of the Oxford Cleaners branch located at 222 West 83rd Street, that first opened in 1998. Talking about the amount of dry cleaning and laundering to be done, Rene calculated in thousands of pounds. Over the last 20 years, the abundance of soiled bundles became increasingly unmanageable to clean in-house, prompting some facilities like Oxford Cleaners to organize according to a model whereby specific types of cleaning are subcontracted out. Accordingly, coats, suits, and dresses are picked up and go to one factory; washable items go to another, furs to a specialized cleaner, and rugs to yet another specialized factory. Each store has a manager and staff workers who keep all the logistics straight using software and computers provided by a third-party company. Looking back to when Rene immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines and was hired by Oxford, it was as a manager of the store’s administrative activities. His employers valued the strength of his ability to interface well with customers and staff.  

Alexander Ra’s role in dry cleaning operations relates exclusively to rugs and furs. He picks them up at dry cleaners like Oxford and brings them by minivan to a rug factory in Farmingdale. Once they are cleaned, he brings them back to each store, where customers retrieve them.

The process of getting things clean is not simple and has always been problematic, even with various technologies that have been developed over time. Considering this matter of rugs, for example, they have been around for thousands of years, coveted particularly in earlier times by wealthy people. Preventing stains and removing them when they did occur has always been a tedious endeavor, often damaging the rugs and usually insufficiently cleaning them. A practice of placing temporary protective cloth over a rug during dinner parties has been discarded over the decades. [1]

Extensive research has documented cleaning practices detailing the use of everything from homemade cleaning recipes involving bread and lemon juice to toxic solvents to steam cleaning and vacuum cleaners. [2]

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the popular rug-beating method of hanging a rug in a line in a brownstone backyard or on the rooftop of an apartment house and beating it with a specialized tool or broom provoked attempted enforcement of an NYC ordinance forbidding rug beating. However, it seems the development of vacuum cleaners rather than the policy eventually diminished the practice. The New York Times described the topic on March 17, 1904. “The determination of Health Commissioner Darlington to enforce the provision of the Sanitary Code, which forbids the beating of rugs and carpets and the shaking of dusty fabrics from windows in any part of New York, will no doubt be the subject of many complaints from the housewives who find themselves committing misdemeanors in the performance of the most usual functions of the Spring house cleaning.”

Noting the beating of rugs, “are the favorite breeding grounds for these unicellular creatures (microbes) and beating their homes in the open air of backyards, fire escapes or on roofs is perhaps the surest way of disseminating them over a neighborhood as.”  How to fix this? The suggestion has been made that for the benefit of the poor the Board of Health should provide carpet cleaning facilities as they have sterilizing facilities for infected bedding and clothing. [3]

Now, more than 100 years later, your options for rug cleaning are to attempt to spot clean, have a rug cleaner come to your home, bring the rug to a dry cleaner like Oxford, or consider various other services to have the work done offsite. If the complexity and expense of this make you want to forget about rugs, you’re also dismissing the beauty and home-enhancing value of the great Aubussons, fine Persian and Chinese rugs along with handmade Tribal Kilims or Mid- Century Swedish Raya shag rugs.

Is the challenge of cleaning worth having a beautiful rug or simply an old thrift shop find you love? The same might be asked if it’s better to forgo a silk gown or a bespoke tuxedo because they will need cleaning after they’ve been worn once.

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