On a chilly morning, a dry cleaning shop is a comforting place. It has that warm-towel smell that’s the best part of doing laundry.
Celebrations hang from the racks – the clothes people love and care for the most carefully. Party dresses and tuxedos, crisp button-down shirts for important business. Even a well-cared-for 1996 Panthers division-championship sweatshirt.
Robert and Ximena Arroba spend more than 12 hours a day in their dry-cleaning shop, Carolina Cleaners, 5542 South Blvd., on a busy stretch of highway between a barbecue restaurant and a lube shop.
They came a long way to end up there. Both were born in Quito, Ecuador. Their families knew each other.
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“Everybody knows everybody in Quito,” says Ximena (HE-mean-ah).
Still, Robert and Ximena were just friends. He went off to America in the 1970s when his father came here to work for a construction company. She graduated from high school and asked for a trip to America instead of the traditional party. A party is over fast, and she wanted something she’d always remember. Her father gave her a ticket to San Francisco, to visit her aunt and she ended up settling in California.
Robert, now 64, married twice and had a couple of kids. Ximena, now 55, came to Charlotte in the 1980s and got a job working for the Salvation Army.
They’d run into each other over the years, usually on visits back home to Ecuador. When they both ended up in Charlotte, they really became friends. Finally, in 2000, they opened a business together. Five years later, they got married.
“I had been married before,” Robert says. “I wanted to turn the page.” A friend who had a dry cleaning shop on Providence Road convinced him it’s a good business.
Now, here’s the question we came to Carolina Cleaners to ask: Most of us, even if we don’t want to admit it, use our jobs as a refuge from home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Going our separate ways for 9 or 10 hours a day isn’t always a bad idea.
So how do you keep love alive when you’re in a tiny dry-cleaning shop six days a week, usually from 6 in the morning until 6:30 at night, and then at home together the rest of the time?
Ximena: “You have to be truthful to your feelings. We’re humans, we can get on each others’ toes. Clear your mind and forgive. It’s better.”
Robert: “Learn to be free. Love with no fear. Don’t expect nothing in return, nothing back.”
Ximena: “Some couples do 50 percent – ‘he does this, I’ll do that.’ No. You have to do 100 percent for each other.”
And remember: If life gets a little soiled and wrinkled, you can clean it up, press it and start over, good as new.