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Dry cleaners serving businesses have long history in Willmar

Julie and Dan Tollefson run Schwegman’s Cleaners in Willmar. B2B photo by Ron Adams

Crisp white shirts, neatly pressed suits, wrinkle-free tablecloths, work uniforms for fast food restaurant employees or for mechanics — all with pickup and delivery available. That’s what Schwegman’s Cleaners and Nelsens Cleaners and Launderers provide to the Willmar business community.

When Paul Nelsen’s grandfather, Nels, and his brothers bought a laundry business from its Chinese owners on Dec. 7, 1914, Nels may not have imagined the family enterprise being so business-oriented nearly a century later.

Nelsens Cleaners and Launderers, owned and operated by Paul Nelsen and his mother, Norma, provides services, including pickup and delivery, for a variety of business customers within an hour’s drive of Willmar. Working alongside two full-time and three part-time employees, Nelsen may be at the wheel of the delivery vehicle himself.

“We wash and press 300-400 shirts a week and clean and press 50-100 suits weekly for our professional accounts, such as accounting firms and insurance offices,” Nelsen said. “On the commercial laundry side, we wash table linens for restaurants and for personal customers, uniforms owned by mechanics in private shops, entrance mats, etc. We go the extra mile for our customers. We have delivered at 2 a.m. to a restaurant that had forgotten to order linens for the breakfast setting.”

One of the more unusual items Nelsen recalled cleaning was a Perkins Restaurant flag, some 30 or 40 years ago.

Nelsens Cleaners and Launderers, located at 220 Benson Ave. S.W., is open 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to noon Saturday.

Schwegman’s Cleaners

Schwegman’s Cleaners is also a family enterprise. Eighteen years ago, Dan Tollefson purchased the business from his parents, who had bought it from the Schwegmans. He and his wife are fully involved in the business, and his parents work occasionally, alongside 11 to 14 employees, depending on the season. Tollefson’s parents taught him the business, and he attends classes and seminars at national conventions and institutes to remain up to date.

“At Schwegman’s Cleaners, we clean, press and do alterations and repair, but we don’t do contract sewing,” Tollefson said. “We’ve got customers — professional people — who have their suits cleaned and pressed, their shirts laundered and pressed. We also do work for the hospital industry, and bedding and towels for the lodging industry.”

The diverse customer list includes the automotive industry, machinery repair, health care, food service and veterinarians within a one-hour pickup and delivery radius of Willmar.

Schwegman’s Cleaners, located at 108 Minnesota Ave. near downtown Willmar, is open 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Customers come clean

Glen Simons, a McDonald’s district manager, relies on Schwegman’s Cleaners to keep multiple restaurants’ crew uniforms ready for new employees to wear. Workers care for their own uniforms during their term of employment, but when they leave McDonald’s employ, it’s off to the cleaners for their uniforms.

Simons explained, “Every few months we have a laundry bag full that we drop off. Schwegman’s launders and folds the uniforms so we can put them back into our inventory, ready for the next person. I also take all of my own business shirts, and sometimes my pants, there weekly.”

Bank loan officer Chris Vraa appreciates Schwegman’s drive-up service for her weekly drop off and pick up of her suits and dresses. She’s even more appreciative of the care Schwegman’s gives her husband’s athletic director shirts.

“We tried for one week to iron one of John’s shirts every morning, and it was not fun,” Vraa said. “For the past seven years we’ve taken all of his shirts to Schwegman’s. The shirts come back crisp and correct looking.”

Mark Miley offered a similar perspective, saying, “I’ve been a principal for 18 years, so to keep my marriage happy, I have my shirts, suits and other items done there. Dan is friendly and a good community person.”