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City cleaning business up for award

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Closia Mason, a seamstress, and Art Major talk over the restitching of a firefighter’s jacket at GearClean. GearClean is up for a Tayloe Murphy Resilience award. competition. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Company started out washing equipment, expanded to include water damage services

By Candace Sipos -- csipos@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Art Major has had quite a ride ever since 2006, when he opened his business, GearClean, on Cameron Street in the city.

An ice hockey player, Major was wondering where he could get his hockey equipment cleaned. He couldn't find a local place for the job, so he bought a giant $60,000 washing machine to fit his needs.

"It was kind of a leap of faith, really, to buy that first piece of equipment," he said.

His company began just for cleaning sporting equipment. Now he cleans everything from horse blankets to firefighting gear to the Gulf Coast. He hired a full-time seamstress to repair jerseys and uniforms. GearClean's customer base includes about 40 fire companies, some from as far as Spotsylvania, and has cleaned about 5,000 horse blankets this year alone.

The company also does water damage and mold remediation and contents restoration for insurance companies, which involves cleaning belongings after they've been in floods, sewage back-ups or the like.

But a defining moment for GearClean came in April 2010, when oil from a BP rig spilled into the Gulf of Mexico for almost three months, dubbed the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Major, who used to work as a consultant in the emergency management field, sent a proposal to BP suggesting that his company could use dry ice blasting instead of pressure washing to clean oil-soaked boats and equipment.

"It's a lot better, because you don't have all the disposal costs," he said, noting that dry ice turns into a gas after ridding objects of contaminants. Major and a group of about 350 people, who were mostly local to the coast and needed jobs after the spill, spent eight months on this project.

GearClean's total revenue for 2010 was almost 386 times what it was in 2007.
Partly because of the company's success in that year, it's one of 14 finalists for the second Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards Competition through the University of Virginia.

The awards recognize some of the most resilient businesses in economically challenged portions of the state.

"The story in a lot of the economic news is about how challenged the economy is right now," said Greg Fairchild, executive director of the of U.Va.'s Tayloe Murphy Center.

"But even in the most challenged areas, there were firms that were actually doing pretty well from a gross standpoint. We wanted to ... recognize that those firms are out there and let people know about those stories."

Fairchild noted that there are five awards given out in four different sectors. Although GearClean is one of 14 finalists out of 88 total applications, it will compete only against those in the manufacturing sector.

The winners will receive not only ongoing media coverage and the chance to meet important business and government leaders, but one person from each company will be given a free ride through a weeklong executive education class at U.Va., valued between $8,000 and $12,000.

One person who would recommend Major and his business is Closia Mason, the seamstress who works full-time in the shop.
"He's all business," Mason said. "It's like measure three times and cut once, that's him. I haven't had a regret since I came here. A lot of people say, 'When are you going to retire?' I tell them it's not in my vocabulary, not as long as I'm in this place."

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