The founder of Ablitt’s Fine Cleaners and longtime Santa Barbara resident Alberta Ablitt celebrates her 102nd birthday June 8.
Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Alberta Ablitt moved to Santa Barbara with her husband, Neil Ablitt, in 1949. That same year they purchased an existing dry cleaning business, then called St. Paul Dye Works, now Ablitt’s Fine Cleaners.
Before moving to Santa Barbara, the Ablitts had started Gordon’s Cleaners in Seattle in 1930. “We were newly married, we were in a Depression, and my husband didn’t want to continue working for my father in his dry-cleaning business.” Recalling those times, Alberta Ablitt noted that “during World War II dry cleaning was considered a vital industry, and we were given extra gas ration, etcetera.”
Once in Santa Barbara, starting with a boiler, a flatwork ironer, and a vintage dry cleaning machine, Neil and Alberta worked diligently, building the business on a shoestring.
By 1955, Ablitt’s was rated in the top 3 percent of cleaners in the nation by the National Institute of Dry Cleaners, based in Silver Springs, Maryland.
By the early 1960s, the Ablitts wanted to retire, and since the next generation showed no interest in joining the business, they decided to sell. They sold their business to Russell Krapft, an engineer from General Motors, but kept the building and property. Krapft operated the business successfully until 1978, when he sold and retired to West Virginia.
In January 2002, the Ablitts’ youngest daughter, Sasha, took over the business and implemented the installation of two 90-pound Green Earth dry cleaning machines. Ablitt’s is still the only Green Earth cleaner in Santa Barbara, although there are other environmentally conscious dry cleaners. Green Earth is a silicon solvent considered more earth-friendly than the more traditional perchloroethylene and petroleum solvents. There are no disposal or Environmental Protection Agency regulations for Green Earth cleaning.
The Ablitts became close friends with many of their employees and customers. “It was hard work, but we had a good feeling of accomplishment, and people appreciated what we were doing,” said Alberta Ablitt.
She has watched Santa Barbara evolve throughout the years. “It’s a lot busier, more people, everyone’s in a rush,” she said. “We lived near Toro Canyon, and sometimes driving home after work we would see only a few cars. Today it’s gridlock at that time of day.”
An avid participant in the Self-Realization Fellowship of Santa Barbara, Alberta Ablitt has spent much of the last 40 years in meditation, a practice that she claims is part of her secret to longevity. “I also believe I lived a pretty healthy life,” she explained. “No excesses, except maybe Self-Realization Fellowship.”