Taking it to the cleaners

There’s no doubt when you walk into the East Towne Cleaners in Bremerton that the owners support the troops.
“We support our troops and our veterans,” said Douglas Dutter. “Anything we can do for them, we do.”
Dutter, a veteran himself, is among a number of Kitsap County veterans who own their own businesses. He also participates in a business network that promotes veteran-owned businesses.
On one wall of the cleaners hang awards that he and his wife, Edith, have earned for service to veterans. On the counter sits a military uniform in a box showing their services to preserve uniforms for veterans.
Even the shop’s business cards feature an eagle, an America flag and reads: “We Support Our Troops.”
Dutter’s love of the military began when he was quite young.
“My father was in the Air Force,” he said. “I grew up in that environment. We moved every couple of years and we lived all over the world.”
His family lived throughout Europe including in Germany and England. Stateside, he lived in Washington and Texas.
His family settled in the Vancouver area after his father left the Air Force and they lived on a five-acre farm in Washougal with pigs and chickens. Today, Dutter and his wife own the farm.
After graduating from high school in Vancouver, Wash., and attending community college he decided to join the military. Dutter chose the Navy.
“My dad said ‘Why are you joining the Navy’,” he said. “I told him because I want to see the other half of the world.”
So at age 20, in 1979, Dutton signed up and became a machinist’s mate. He spent 20 years in the Navy and was assigned to the USS Badger — a Knox-class destroyer escort turned frigate — for the first seven-and-a-half years.
“That was my sea duty,” he said. “And then I came home to shore duty at Pearl Harbor.”
In his later years he was stationed on the USS Sterrett, a Belknap-class destroyer leader/cruiser. Part of that time he spent in the Philippines.
That’s where he met his wife.
“She was a seamstress,” he said. “I took a pair of jeans into her and asked her to make me two pair of dress pants. She did and I still have them.”
Edith, who co-owns the dry cleaners, was taught to sew at Lorraine’s Tailoring School and worked for the Jantzen swimsuit company. She followed him back to Hawaii where they were married in 1984.
“It was a very special day because my father was able to marry us,” Dutter said. “After the Air Force, my dad became a chaplain.”
Together the Dutters had three daughters, who are now 24, 26, and 28. They also have a four-and-a-half month old granddaughter and another one on the way in April.
During his service years, Dutter had two tours of the Persian Gulf and the South Pacific. Those were the Cold War years, but his work was “expeditionary: Go look, listen and see and then document everything,” he said.
When Dutter finished his time in the Navy, he applied to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton and was offered a machinist’s job. He moved his family to Bremerton in 1994 and Edith went to work at Navy Base Kitsap Bangor at the base exchange. She became known as a good seamstress, and in 2004 the Dutters bought East Towne Cleaners in Bremerton. Many of Edith’s customers from Bangor followed her to their new business.
“This place has only had two owners in its history,” Doug Dutton said. “The shop has been here for more than 20 years.”
After a car accident in 2005, Dutton left his shipyard job with a disability and began working with his wife at the dry cleaners. He’s in charge of keeping up all of the equipment, maintaining all the electronics and he picks up and drops off cleaning twice each week to customers.
“I like to say it’s my volunteer job,” he said. “That’s because I never get a pay check. That’s what owning your own business is all about.”
The business does all its dry cleaning on-site, except for leather jackets and oriental rugs, which are sent out to a specialty cleaners in Seattle.
The business is steady and picks up around pay day, Edith said.
“People drop clothes off all the time,” she said. “But often, they don’t pick them up until pay day, especially the seniors on Social Security and the active military.”
They clean many active duty uniforms and they specialize in preserving military uniforms for retired veterans.
“We offer them discounts and we have a fast turnaround,” Dutton said. “If someone comes in with a handful of patches they need sewn on their uniform, we try to do it while they wait. And if there’s three of them, we just charge them for two. It’s just an honor to have their business.”
They also clean the VFW Post color guard uniforms at a discount.
Dutter is active in the VFW Post 239 and is junior vice commander. He is also involved in the service work members of the post do with Bremerton High School and the local Boy Scouts.
One of the most interesting things that the Dutters have seen come in to their shop was a pair of socks.
“We cleaned Marvin Williams’ socks,” Doug Dutton said, of the famed Bremerton native. Williams now plays professional basketball for the Utah Jazz. He was a high school basketball star while at Bremerton High School.
“We’ve done suits for him, too. But the socks — that was something unusual.”
They’ve also cleaned a basketball jersey that his sister had framed.
Dutton said he enjoys his work because of his customers.
“They’re all great,” he said. “They’re all really friendly and I know most of them by name. And one thing’s for sure. You never get cold working at a dry cleaners. It’s always nice and warm in here.”