As you may have noticed, wedding season is in full swing. I recently attended a wedding, which also meant that I had to pull together something to wear and, of course, have it dry cleaned.
Soon after the nuptials, I went to talk with someone whose job is to deal with other people’s dirty laundry. I interviewed Lisa Pomaya, a native of Athens and a woman who has been working closely with clothing for a number of years. Lisa not only shared with me her experience working at a local dry cleaner, but also talked about working in a sewing plant here in Athens, an often forgotten part of the city’s once prominent textile industry. Lisa was happy to give me a few moments of her time in between offering patrons some of her homemade pastries and returning freshly starched garments to their owners.
Flagpole: How long have you been working here?
Lisa Pomaya: Probably for the business—[the owner] had several businesses before—14, 15 years. They used to own four stores here. One burned down, and the other, they sold. So now, they just have this store and one other.
FP: What exactly does your job entail?
LP: Well, take in dry cleaning; we do some laundry… basically, that’s about it.
FP: You’ve been doing this a long time. Do you enjoy it?
LP: Yeah, pretty much. You know, you get to meet a lot of people. It’s a pretty interesting job. Most of the people that come in here are pretty friendly, so you get to know a lot of the people. You know them by their first name when they come in the door and, you know, they like that—that you know who they are every time they come in.
FP: How long have you lived here?
LP: I’ve lived in Athens all my life… I graduated from Cedar Shoals. I got married out of high school and I had three kids, so I worked in between that.
FP: How has Athens changed during your lifetime?
LP: It’s grown a lot. I suppose for the better [laughs]. I don’t know. It’s just a really interesting place to live. A lot of good people here… Now, [downtown] has changed a lot. Because mostly, most of the things downtown now are bars. I can remember when there were a lot of… I guess they called them back then, like, “nickel and dime” stores, you know. And the big clothing stores were downtown then: Macy’s, Belk’s, J.C. Penny’s and all that. Which, needless to say, now they’ve all moved out to the mall. But, it’s a bit different.
FP: Do you spend a lot of time downtown now?
LP: Not so much; the parking’s hard. It’s hard to get a parking place downtown nowadays.
FP: Where did you work before you worked here?
LP: Well, I used to work in a sewing plant. And it went out of business. You know, everything got imported overseas now, so all that’s pretty much gone. Which, it was a good job… We made suits for men. They ended up putting the plant in Mexico, so…
FP: So, the plant was in Athens? Where exactly was it?
LP: It was out off, um, out off North Avenue. I can’t remember the name of the road, but it was off North Avenue [laughs].
FP: What did you do at the sewing plant?
LP: I pressed. It paid real well.
FP: And how long did you work there?
LP: Nine years. I was working over there full-time and with the dry cleaners part-time… Me and my best friend got the job together, so we worked together a number of years. Now we’re kind of drifted apart. She manages a tanning bed [business], and I’m here, so we don’t get to see each other as much as we did back then.
FP: How did you get the job?
LP: My mom used to work there… so through her, I got the job.
FP: So, the plant had been around for a while?
LP: Oh, yeah, it had been there for years. I think there used to be a couple more sewing plants in town and, needless to say, they’ve all moved out, too.
FP: So, when the plant left, you still had your job here at the dry cleaners to go to.
LP: Yeah, I got divorced back then, so it was like me and my kids. So, I had to work two jobs. And with the help of my mom: she’d see after my kids while I worked.
FP: How do you feel about the job situation here in Athens? Has it always been pretty easy for you to get a job?
LP: Yeah, back then it was. It used to be you could depend on your job. You knew it would be there. But nowadays, everything’s kind of sketchy. You never know from one day to another how businesses are gonna do. You see so many businesses in town going out of business, some that had been here for years, that you always thought would be here, and they’re not anymore… You used to think if you were in the dry cleaning business or the food business, you’d always have a job because people have to have clean clothes and food, but that’s not true anymore… You sit here and wonder from one day to the next, “Now, am I going to have a job next week?” You just don’t know. Now, at my age, you really have to plan ahead [laughs]. The older you get, the harder it is to get a job.
FP: Where do you currently live?
LP: I live on the east side of town. I love it. The house I live in, it will be in my family for four generations. So, it’s just been passed down the line… It’s an old house. I think the house was built back in, like, the 1950s. It’s on a little dead-end street. It’s just a small little neighborhood, which mostly college students are there now, I think. Myself and one other person are the only original people there.
FP: You’ve been living there all your life?
LP: Pretty much.
FP: How do you feel about your neighborhood changing to more of a college student neighborhood?
LP: You know, it’s not bad. I first thought, when the students moved in, they’d be kind of loud and rowdy, but I mean, they’re all very nice. You know, get along fine. It’s not bad at all.
FP: Tell me a little bit about what you do in your free time.
LP: I don’t get much of that. I work two jobs. I work here and plus we have a plant across town. I work there some, too.
FP: And what do you do over there?
LP: Well, they do the dry cleaning over there. Which, I don’t do any of that. I just take the dry cleaning in and when customers come to pick up, I put it out. So, between working here five days a week, and I work over there three days a week… Plus, I keep all the refreshments for the place over here. I do all the baking.
FP: So, you’re an amateur baker, too.
LP: Yeah, pretty much. I experiment a little bit. The customers get to try it out [laughs]. I like to have stuff here for people to enjoy while they’re washing, so it’s not so much of a burden. They sit back, watch a good movie, coffee, free pastries, you know.
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.