If there’s one thing Sarah Freitas, long-time Oakdale resident and owner of Sarah’s Dry Cleaning, knows it’s cleaning, stitching, and altering clothes.
For the past 30 years she’s been the friendly face and capable hands behind the counter, ensuring her clients’ clothes are cleaned, pressed, and looking like a hundred bucks when she’s finished with them but all good things must come to an end and Freitas is finally calling it quits.
She’s ready to retire.
This isn’t the first time Freitas has tried to retire, having sold her first dry cleaning business in 1991 but retirement wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and Freitas found herself looking to jump back into the business.
“I was too young to retire,” Freitas shared. “I got bored. It lasted eight months and then my clients wanted me to come back.”
Freitas laughed, saying, “As a kid I hated ironing. My mom said, ‘for a girl who doesn’t like to iron you’re sure doing a lot of it’.”
During the short retirement stint, Freitas was doing alterations in her garage until she finally bit the bullet and reopened at the current location on West F Street.
“My customers asked me to return to dry cleaning and I’ve been here ever since,” Freitas said.
Originally from Hayward, Freitas and her husband moved to Oakdale in 1968 when her husband accepted a job with the local police department. All three children attended Oakdale High School and two remained in the area, one of which is her daughter who became her right hand at the shop.
“When I started this business the town wasn’t very big. There were about 7,000 people and only two dry cleaners. There’s been so many changes. It used to be at five o’clock you could shoot a cannonball down Main Street and you wouldn’t hit no one. It’s not like that anymore.” Freitas said. “You get to know people when you’re doing their clothes and you get close to your customers. You want their clothes to leave looking like new. It’s a big responsibility dealing with people’s garments. It’s not that easy.”
As the town has changed, so has the dry cleaning business, noted Freitas.
“The quality of fabrics have changed and they’re not as good as they used to be. The clothes coming from foreign countries such as China, Japan and India use natural dyes made from berries and you have to be very careful because the dyes just don’t hold up. Other countries also use fugitive dyes that run. The solvents that we used to use have been banned in California,” Freitas said. “Just getting the licensing is difficult because it’s a complicated authorization process.”
Freitas has also realized that doing what she does, sewing and offering alterations, is becoming a lost art.
“The young today they don’t want to sew on a button,” Freitas shared. “When I was a kid we made our own clothes. But home economics isn’t even taught in the schools any more and parents are so busy trying to keep a roof over their heads that they don’t have the time to teach the kids either.”
Before selling to the new owners who were also clients, a brother and sister duo, Scott and Denise Jaspar and Scott Jaspar’s fiancée, Carey McCurley, Freitas purchased a new dry cleaning machine that is compliant with new state requirements.
“I’ve had my ups and downs but I’ve enjoyed it and if I wasn’t so tired I’d probably stick with it,” Freitas admitted. “The people in the community are just down to earth, country folk and we have a safe community. We have our problems but nothing like Modesto or the Bay Area. And I like that the people are friendly. They’ll sit and talk with you.”
Freitas and her daughter are still behind the counter, for the time being, as they teach the new owners the ropes.
Denise said, “Working with Sarah has been wonderful. She’s very accommodating and we have a lot to learn. The first two weeks was exhausting. Every customer wants something a little different but I enjoy the challenge.”
The new owners are looking at expanding but they’re going to keep the name the same for the customers.
And it’s the customers Freitas is going to miss the most.
“I had the best there is,” Freitas said. “I’m really going to miss everyone.”