501 Life Magazine | A family tradition: Model Laundry puts focus on customers, quality
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A family tradition: Model Laundry puts focus on customers, quality

by Madeline Phillips

When Gus Enderlin Sr. assumed ownership of a small business in Downtown Conway 65 years ago, he probably never knew that eventually Model Laundry and Dry Cleaners would become synonymous with his family’s last name. But it seems the business and the family were meant to be together.

Between the opening of Model Laundry and Dry Cleaners in 1916 and 1946 when Gus Enderlin, Sr. bought the business, its owners changed hands at least six times. The original owners decided to return to their home in Hope, and others just didn’t enjoy the laundry business.

It’s a tough work environment. The chemicals and steaming presses require constant ventilation, so there’s no heating or air conditioning in the back, where all the clothes are cleaned – there are lots of open doors and windows. That means exposure to high temperatures and humidity in the summer and cold bitter days during winter. The work also requires standing for long hours in these conditions. It’s easy to see why previous owners gave up.

But for the Enderlins, Model Laundry and Dry Cleaners has become something else entirely. It is where they work, but it’s more than just a business. It’s a way of life, a longstanding family tradition. Since 1946, its ownership has only been under a different name for a brief period of time in the 1980s.

And its location has also seen little change. Model Laundry is one of the few businesses in Conway’s downtown area that has survived economic downturns, including the Great Depression and the most recent recession. Jill Enderlin, wife of Michael Enderlin – Gus Jr.’s son – says the business has managed to survive despite tough economic conditions because of a simple philosophy: “We don’t miss work.”

The building at 717 Parkway has seen tough times, though. Fifty years ago, the plant caught fire after what Jill calls “mechanic towels” – towels with gases and chemicals on them – were left sitting one night. Though they had been washed and dried, the towels combusted and nearly destroyed the entire facility. But it was quickly rebuilt at its original location with the most modern equipment of its time.

Although they began partial ownership in 1989, Michael and Jill Enderlin have had sole ownership of the company since 2000. Jill says people often ask her how they do it. She initially jokes, “We don’t,” but then admits it “requires a lot of communication – a lot of meeting in the middle.”

Still, many people wonder how the Enderlins spend so much time together. Jill says she and Michael have mostly separate duties at work, and when it comes to employees who double as family, it requires some differentiating between the two.

“When my Mom started working for us,” Jill explains, “I had to tell her, ‘Mom, at work, you’re still my Mom, but you’re also my employee.’ But it all works out well because we depend on each other so much.”

Michael and Jill’s three children also work there, and Michael’s parents, even though now in their 80s, fill in when necessary. Even those employees who don’t share the Enderlin name are considered family. Several of them have worked for the business for 10 years or more.

The Enderlins are proof that genuine hard work and sincerity make the difference.

“Some people are always going to have their clothes cleaned,” Jill said. “But we do quality work, and we’re very people oriented. The biggest thing is remembering names. People love it when we know who they are.”