Meet Your Merchant: Generations of getting the spot out at Mercury Cleaners
Quality dry cleaning
Address: 986 Plaza Drive, Grass Valley (next to Margarita’s)
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturdays. Beginning June 1, Saturday hours will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For more info: Call 530-274-1845 or go online.
As a boy, Tom Van Dyke remembers his grandfather boiling his own starch and pressing his customers’ collars and cuffs by hand. Today it’s a lost art, he says. His grandparents had opened a French laundry in Sacramento in the 1930s, which became known for their meticulous hand pressing of sheets, pillowcases and fine lace tablecloths — mostly done with an enormous 16-pound iron.
But when an uncle took over the family business after nearly 30 years, Tom decided to branch out on his own — with a financial boost from his father — and try something completely different: dry cleaning.
“I started Mercury Dry Cleaning in Sacramento in 1971,” he said. “It was a lot more sophisticated than a laundromat.”
Carrying on the family adage of “never cutting corners,” Tom’s business quickly developed a reputation for quality work. In addition to landing a state contract to clean suits for all state senators and assembly members, interior decorators regularly referred clients to the dry cleaning business, located on 16th Street.
When Ronald Reagan was governor of California, he hired Mercury Cleaners to clean the drapes in his home.
“It was the funniest thing — I had always heard about how Reagan loved jelly beans,” said Tom. “When I went into his bedroom, there was actually a bowl of jelly beans — I didn’t take any.”
Once Tom and his wife Rayanne had a family of their own, they were eager to move out of the city. In 1992, the Van Dykes opened Mercury Cleaners in Grass Valley, while still maintaining a dry cleaning plant in Sacramento. In 1994, they bought a plant in Colfax, opened Colfax Cleaners and sold their business in Sacramento.
While Tom still does the bulk of the dry cleaning and daily deliveries, his two daughters, Erin Van Dyke and Melinda Cerrito, oversee much of the daily operations between the two businesses. Son Tommy Jr. helps out with draperies in customers’ homes. Rayanne, who worked for many years alongside her husband and children, has turned over most of her former duties to the younger generation.
“It’s a true family business,” said Melinda. “Erin and I both worked here as teenagers. We’d get paid $5 to put foam on the hangers. Now my 11 year old daughter helps out in the back.”
“We’re a quality cleaners — we don’t cut corners,” said Erin, echoing the adage passed down from her grandparents. “We press things correctly and are known for getting spots out.”
From shirts and down comforters to blankets, suede items, tablecloths and wedding gowns, they do it all. A contract with the Grass Valley Police Department keeps them busy, as they clean all officers’ uniforms, as well as the detectives’ suits and jackets. In 2010, they became green dry cleaners, meaning they don’t use chemicals, said Melinda.
“It’s rewarding to form bonds with customers who have been coming to us for years and years,” said Erin. “People know all about our family and ask about the kids. There is a warm, friendly, small town feel here.”
In the 1970s, Laura Wagner-Balch was a regular Mercury customer in Sacramento, and was disappointed when the family sold the business on 16th Avenue. But when she moved to Nevada City, she was delighted to learn the family had relocated to the same area.
“I just happened to drive by and saw the name,” she said. “When I went in, there were Rayanne and her daughters. Now I’ve been going to them here for the past decade, at least. They’ve always stood out because of their customer service.”
Erin says the success of their family business can be attributed to the advice her grandparents regularly gave: “If you do a good job and charge a fair price, you’ll be just fine.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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Raised in the deserts of New Mexico, Kaylee Argenbright met a striking change of scenery in the Sierra Nevadas and is rapidly becoming a part of the Nevada County community.