The Four Seasons Dry Cleaners at 21 South End Ave. doesn't look or sound like most other dry cleaners. Classical music is playing and there are fresh flowers behind the counter. Behind the scenes, the shop isn't like most other dry cleaners, either. Last November, Four Seasons converted to a "green" dry cleaning process that uses biodegradable alternatives to traditional dry cleaning solvents.
Dry cleaning involves applying a solvent to soiled clothing in lieu of water. In traditional dry cleaning, this solvent is most often perchloroethylene (or "perc" for short), a chemical also used in paint strippers and industrial degreasers. If improperly disposed of, perc can become a toxic soil and water contaminant.
The switch to a more organic process at Four Seasons "was for our health and to preserve the Earth," explained Sue Ryu, co-owner of the shop with her husband, Young. Biodegradable solvents are also recyclable, said Mr. Ryu, allowing Four Seasons to use less solution overall. Four Seasons' commitment to the environment extends to the less glorious parts of the business as well - they recycle everything down to the hangers.
"The way to compete is quality," explained Mr. Ryu, acknowledging the cost of a green system as "an investment." However, the Ryus, who have owned their Battery Park City shop for five years, have not raised their prices. Though they commute daily from New Jersey, they consider Battery Park City to be their home. "We try to cut the price for our customers who've lost their job," Ms. Ryu remarked.