Sno-White: Still Old Town’s keeper of clean
Halfway through the last century, Old Colorado City was bustling with lumber yards, a hardware store, a paint store, a printing company and a major laundry.
Nowadays, Old Town could be described as somewhat genteel, with art galleries, gift shops, jewelers, upscale clothiers and… yes, a major laundry.
Sno-White Linen & Uniform Rental is the throwback business in Old Colorado City - a big employer in a factory setting, the only one left of its kind here. If anything, the operation has grown, physically expanding behind its traditional storefront in Colorado Avenue's 2500 block while extending its services to much of the state.
Inside Sno-White, 130 employees work with large and intricate machinery - much of it specially customized - to clean and dry seemingly endless quantities of uniforms, napkins, towels, aprons and other cloth items for thousands of businesses in the Fort Collins-Raton, Denver-Grand Junction and Rocky Ford-Lamar corridors. The interior is a sprawling, warm, humming, 67,000-square-foot complex behind the unassuming entrances at 2515-2519 W. Colorado Ave. and 110 S. 25th Street. “It's bigger than anybody else thinks,” said Mary Helen Boffey, the production manager.
Production numbers are almost staggering. In cloth napkins alone, the plant processes an average of 167,000 a day (some white, some black - Boffey said the trend lately is to black), not counting 30 lesser-used colors. And how about 80,000 bar towels? Plus, each order has to be sorted by type, amount and customer before being trucked out.
Yet for all its size, Sno-White has much in common with Old Colorado City's typical small stores, remaining a family-owned company - a rarity in the super-laundry business, according to general manager Kevin McAllister, a third-generation member of the ownership group, whose office is in Denver. Other family still involved in the business are his great-uncle M.D. “Mac” McAllister (CEO/president), Kevin's younger brother Jeff, their father Chuck and sister, Cindy Balch (both in the Colorado Springs facility).
M.D. and his older brother (Kevin's grandfather), C.H. McAllister, purchased the business in 1967 from the Gates family, which had brought dry-cleaning experience to the Pikes Peak region from Texas around 1950, based on a phone interview with Kevin McAllister and an old newspaper article.
“We compete on a national level, but we're still just a little mom-and-pop that's grown over the years,” he summarized. “We just keep growing, trying to find space in that plant down there.”
In the 1950s, Sno-White was just one of many laundry/dry cleaning companies in Colorado Springs, but over time Sno-White became the leader.
“It was really phenomenal,” recalled historian Mel McFarland, who had an uncle that worked in the local cleaning industry for 30 years. “So many big laundries in Colorado Springs folded to them.”
One of those evidently was on the south side of Colorado Avenue's 2500 block, where Sno-White's storefront is now. According to McFarland's research, that location has had laundries, under one ownership or another, going back to the early 1900s. Very probably, they have all been in the same buildings - the Assessor's Office lists the construction dates as 1902 (at 2515 W. Colorado Ave.) and 1909 (at 2519).
One way that Sno-White is like other regional-type laundries is in its business approach. Early on, the company owned numerous small outfits that cleaned for the areas around them (example: Old Colorado City). But eventually, as McAllister explained the history, Sno-White decided that a better course was to establish a single “mega-plant.”
“What we've done,” he continued, “is to consolidate micro-plants from all over the state into one. We used to have plants all over the place, but some weren't as successful. It made more sense to have it in one place and drive a truck on down.”
Thus it is that two large semi-trucks a day rumble into Sno-White (filled with dirty laundry) and rumble out (filled with clean). There are two main distribution hubs: Denver and La Junta. About 65 percent of the items cleaned at the local plant go to Denver - although the Westside definitely runs its share of linen through Sno- White. Asked for a list of Westside customers, Boffey reeled off so many restaurants, bars and cafes, it was hard to think of any she'd left out.
Interesting side point: Sno-White actually owns everything it cleans. Businesses rent from the cleaning company, from the uniforms (on which Sno-White workers sew name and company labels and sometimes stitch up rips) to the bar towels. Such an arrangement makes it easier to keep what's needed in stock. If, for instance, a business needs more black cloth napkins, Sno-White pulls them out of inventory, Boffey explained.
So why was Old Colorado City chosen as the site for the mega-plant? Much of it has to do with the Westside's working-class tradition. Sno-White enjoys its proximity to a population that's willing to work hard and start at low wages. “On the eastside, I don't think that would happen,” said McAllister, who grew up in this area and worked in the plant before moving to Denver as general manager in 1994. “The Westside is more established. I think it's worked out perfect. We're on the right side of town. I think we have a good relationship with the people on the Westside. A lot of them like to walk to work or ride the bus. How do you find that off Powers Boulevard?”
According to Boffey, the Old Colorado City facility never has to advertise for workers. She simply hangs a sign outside the front door and waits for applicants to show.
They don't even seem to mind a schedule in which there are essentially no days off from the Monday-Friday schedule. The only celebrated holidays are Thanksgiving and Christmas, and those are “made up” by working the following Saturdays. “We can't take days off in this business,” Boffey said. A special challenge is Memorial Day. While Colorado Avenue is full of Territory Days revelers, Sno-White employees are inside working. “Thank God we've got our parking lot on Cucharras or we'd have no place to park,” she said.
Among the attractions for workers is a guaranteed 40-hour week, and the company has never had a layoff. Although the workers are diverse, including Vietnamese, Hispanics, Chinese, Koreans, blacks and whites, “they all get along great,” Boffey said. “There's hardly ever any problems.”
The business has several long-time employees. Peggy Cross leads them all with 42 years. “I like the work,” she said recently inside the plant, while sorting towels. “When I started, I didn't have a car. I walked back and forth. I've lived in the same house all my life. All I know is the Westside.”
Another Sno-White veteran, Kimiko Graham, who has been there 35 years, expressed similar sentiments. “I like working,” said the 73-year-old, adding that she does house-cleaning on the side.
Boffey herself, with 29 years, is part of a two-generation family employee tradition at the plant. Her father, William Brickell, was production manager before she took on the job in 1990. Also, his brother George was once vice president, and her brother Dick and sister, Becky Crippen, still work there.
Boffey, a Coronado High graduate and life-long Westsider, laughed that she never meant to make the business her career, but in the end, “Sno-White helped me raise four kids,” she said.
Asked about the family connections - Brickell/ Boffey as well as his own - McAllister laughed, “If we had a nepotism policy, we'd be out of business.”
The Old Colorado City site's growth took place incrementally over many years. An undated news clipping, probably from the 1960s, when Gates was still company president, reports the largest expansion. That was the purchase of the former 36,000-square-foot Newton Lumber property across the alley behind Sno-White's avenue-facing location. It provided the company with more than half of the property along the north side of Cucharras Street west of 25th. Other purchases since the 1980s have extended Sno-White - for parking, a repair garage and other needs - on that side of Cucharras, as well as on the street's south side.
As for occasional critiques that the company's Colorado Avenue storefront lacks historic style, McAllister said he's proud of the façade's neatness and green lawn in the warmer months.
For the foreseeable future, Sno-White has no plans for big changes in Old Colorado City, according to McAllister. Even though the operation's gradual development there “is not the way we'd build a modern plant,” the management likes the way it functions. “It's an old building doing what we need it to do,” he said. “We've standardized it, modernized it, and stuck money into water- and energy-saving methods. We wouldn't want to put it anywhere else.”
Westside Pioneer article