Amy Harris is co-owner of Oceanside Cleaners with her husband, Mike. She has resided in Ponte Vedra Beach since 2003.
As told to Maggie FitzRoy
Q: When did you open your dry-cleaning business?
A: In 1990. Our first location was 1,000 square feet on Southside Boulevard. Three years later we opened the Ponte Vedra location, where we are now, on Solana Road.
Q: What inspired you and Mike to go into that type of business?
A: We had been married for two years, working in our careers. He was working in the pipe fitting industry and I was selling personal computers. His company was closing the office here and he always wanted to own his own business. So his mother, who owned a local laundromat in Atlantic Beach, encouraged us to look at opening a dry-cleaners. Her business was thriving, and she saw a need for quality dry-cleaning.
Q: Has the business changed a lot since 1990?
A: Yes. From 1,000 square feet our main plant is now 8,000 square feet. That’s on Southside Boulevard, so we have two locations. In 1993, we opened this one in Ponte Vedra Beach; we don’t clean any clothes here. We are in our third location in Southside, so we have grown. We went from 1,000 square feet to 3,000 to 8,000. We are thankful for the growth.
Q: Has the industry in general changed?
A: I think the biggest ways are in getting more creative in serving the customer. Pickup and delivery in the last eight to 10 years has really increased. We have also changed our cleaning process to be more environmentally safe.
Q: Who else in your family works the business?
A: Mike and I work full time. His mother, Marian, is also involved. She sold the laundromat in 1996 and came to work for us full time. She works part time now, since she’s 83, and solely at the Ponte Vedra location, where the customers love her. Our daughter, Clare, is our wedding dress specialist.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: In Jacksonville. I went to Englewood High School and I was a member of the first freshman class at UNF, the year it went four-year.
Q: Where did you and Mike meet?
A: We were at UNF at the same time, but we were introduced by Mike’s cousin, who went to high school with me.
Q: What do you do outside of work?
A: I’m very involved with my church, Christ Episcopal, with the youth group. I mentor for confirmation, have served on the Vestry and as a mission trip chaperone. I also work on the family connections committee. Both of our families are still here in Jacksonville, so we have a lot of family commitments we enjoy.
Q: Tell us about your children.
A: Clare is 26 and Mark is 23. Both graduated from Ponte Vedra High.
Q: Any hobbies?
A: I enjoy walking on the beach. I also exercise in a boot camp group class.
Q: What do you like about the dry-cleaning business?
A: Like owning any business, it’s making your own decisions. Seeing your hard work create growth. But it’s a tough business, there’s a lot of moving parts. There are a lot of challenges to owning a business today. No matter what it is. We’ve invested a lot in automation, but there’s only so much that can be done with automation. It’s labor intensive. We have 75 employees and started out with one.
Q: What areas do you serve on the First Coast?
A: We serve from Fernandina Beach to North Vilano Beach and west to Ortega. We have about 10 vans and many routes.