San Mateo wedding gown cleaner celebrates 50 years


Thirty-six years after the wedding and the bride has a problem.

"My wedding dress, it was really badly stained and spotted," said Valerie Chown, a Crystal Cleaning Center customer.

Chown loaned the gown to a friend who ruined it. She came to the Crystal Cleaning Center hoping for a miracle in what looks like wall-to-wall wedding dress land.

"It's beautiful. It's perfect," said Chown as she saw it after it was cleaned.

Lynnette Watterson strives for perfection and has that reputation at the Crystal Cleaning Center. She charges as much as $700 for heirlooming -- the museum-quality restoration and preservation of wedding gowns.

"I'm probably not going to hold it and pick it up a lot. But it is fun to know it is there and that it's back to the way I wore it the first time," said Chown.

And that is not often an easy task, based on the available evidence. Watterson can look at a dress and say, "It was a garden wedding." When we asked her how did she know, she replied, "Grass stains, heel marks... but it was a good time."

Larry Barrozo is her hidden cleaning genius in the back.

"It's an art," said Barrozo.

It's an art that requires a secret combination of chemical agents and elbow grease to remove food, wine, and the usual assortment.

When we asked him what was the grossest thing he had ever cleaned off a wedding gown he frankly replied, "Vomit."

If the service seems remarkable, consider how long this business has been here -- 50 years. That's longer than a lot of marriages.

Watterson told us, "By and large, you can't do your dry cleaning online."

She might also thank her mother, the omnipresent Violet Janks, who opened this shop and taught Watterson the art of perfection. You can see it in her finger when she sews and in the wedding dress she wore 40 years ago for her daughter. And you can hear the legacy in her voice as she bonds with customers.

When heirlooming a gown, only half the job is cleaning. The other half is choosing pictures and keepsakes to go in the box.

It is the little laundry side business that, after half a century, has become a main attraction. It's just the service... it's the person.

When we asked her what would her mom say, Watterson told us "that she's proud."

Does the bride still have a problem with her dress? Chown said, "Not at all."

Mom would never allow it.

"She's keeping a close eye on me," said Watterson.

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