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Miller’s presses on with century of customer and civic service

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Jeff and Tamara Miller flank their son Beck, 23, earlier this year.

Hendersonville Councilman Jeff Miller founded HonorAir a decade ago, in 2005. The Honor Flight Network has flown more than 150,000 World War II veterans to see their memorial in Washington, D.C. Each flight cost as much as $60,000 — from private donations. Miller still goes on most of these day trips departing from the area. He took 12 in October, with four from Henderson County.

Miller earned a Caring Award in 2014, along with the likes of Muhammad Ali and Bill Clinton, from the Caring Institute co-chaired by former U.S. Senate Majority leaders Bob Dole (a Republican) and Tom Daschle (a Democrat).

Miller said HonorAir is considering transitioning to flying Korean and Vietnam veterans to D.C., to see their own memorials. He cautioned it will take much more fundraising.

Meantime, each December HonorAir buys gifts for homeless veterans in Asheville out of its general fund such as coats and blankets.

Miller is busy with day-to-day operations of Miller’s two cleaners — the main facility at 423 N. King St., and a high-capacity coin laundromat (with wifi and TV) at 1620 Brevard Road (U.S. 64 West) in Westside Plaza.

The 2010 congressional candidate told The Tribune he will not seek the local District 48 State Senate seat that retiring Tom Apodaca is vacating in a year after seven terms.

“I am 100 percent not running for Tom’s seat. It’s just not something I want to do,” Miller strongly stated. Apodaca swore Miller onto Council, and Miller has led Apodaca’s campaigns locally.

Miller is midway through an initial, four-year council term. “I’m on City Council. I’m committed to four years there. Besides, driving back and forth to Raleigh doesn’t appeal to me.”

He supports candidate Chuck Edwards, another native and business (McDonalds) owner, over maverick Dennis Justice. “The business community will get behind Chuck,” Miller said. “He worked up from flipping burgers, to owning them. He’s a very generous man.”

Miller’s Service Legacy

Miller’s has a special place in the history of downtown and The Hendersonville Tribune, as a main feature of the inaugural issue Jan. 17, 2002.

The business began in 1915. Leave it to Miller to honor the century mark by helping others. By spending $25 or more at a time, customers are automatically registered for a drawing this month for a prize of up to $1,000 in free dry cleaning in 2016.

Miller’s donated $500 monthly since June to a local charity nominated by patrons, to total $3,500.

Jeff’s late parents Bert and Kay were also good samaritans. “It’s what my father and mother would be proud of,” Jeff said of charitable giving. “We followed their example. Dad said it’s always good to give back. So we honored the family.”

Hubert E. “Bert” Miller died at age 81 in 2002, and Kathryn “Kay” (Drake) Miller followed three years later. Jeffrey Lane Miller, 61, is their only child. He and wife Tamara (“Tam”) have a son, Beck, 23.

Beck graduated in May from Wake Forest, where he ran track. Beck works in Raleigh, as an Ipreo investment analyst. Beck is named after family friend and longtime pharmacist Bill Beck, and not in a father-son blending of first names to honor rock guitarist Jeff Beck.

The fourth generation to work in the business, Beck Miller as a teen ran laundry work for camp customers in summers. He starred on Hendersonville Bearcats’ back-to-back state soccer champions. He initiated birthday fundraisers among friends, for charity.

As a young boy, Beck like his father before him played on an old metal Miller’s washer pretending he was firing torpedoes from a submarine, when steering a wheel and pushing buttons that sound a siren then “swoosh.”

Jeff fondly recalls how “I worked many years with my father. He was a great guy. He let me learn from mistakes — from life experiences — instead of just cutting me off. He was very low key. He’d rather laugh, more than anything.”

Bert espoused “customer service, quality and satisfaction” that carries on, Jeff said. And Bert was “very generous. Dad was always thinking of every other person. That’s typical of that World War II generation. He was a good, strong man.”

Kay helped at Miller’s, but mostly was a bank teller. Tam played a crucial role of leading remodeling facilities, including when Miller’s owned several in town.

Norman W. Miller Sr., Bert’s father, bought a one-man pressing club on Main Street in 1915. This was the first of the business’ five sites. Jeff managed it for five years, then took over in 1990. Bert Miller still worked part-time at the laundry into his final year, and was the boiler expert.

Bert first worked in the family business in the Great Depression, as a young boy. He stood on a wooden cola crate, and fed clothes to workers for hand ironing. His three brothers also helped.

Bert said in 2002 that in the Depression, Miller’s biggest customers was the Civilian Conservation Corps that built roads and supplied crucial jobs. The family bartered cleaning for goods and services. Miller boys milked cows and slopped pigs on their Virginia farm, in summers.

People learned the value of a dollar and integrity, from hard times. “To be a good Christian, you treat people fair and square — like you want to be treated,” Bert once told The Tribune. “You give them their money’s worth. I’ve always tried to do that.”

Jeff said “my father’s been an inspiration. He’d say that no matter what a person’s walk in life is, they bring you their very best (garment) — and to treat it like that. Treat customers fairly and equally.”

Compared to a century ago, “we still clean a lot of the same things — just not as much,” Jeff Miller observed. “They used to wash and starch detachable collars of men’s shirts. Men had their jeans stacked stiff as a board, with a crease down the middle. People got their bed sheets ironed.”

Heirlooms occasional cleansed professionally were more commonly used and serviced decades ago. These include quilts, drapes, fine silks, wool and delicate linens and bedding and various household items.

Wedding gowns get cleaned and pressed, for a descendant to get married in. Gowns “can be unpredictable,” requiring customized and delicate care, Miller said. He noted “the beading (sequins) of many gowns can’t survive common (grease-dissolving) solvents. We do not take care level tags as gospel, especially if from China. It may say it can withstand solvents, but can’t. We test everything with sequins.”

Down comforter cleaning and feather pillow restoration, garment size alteration, restoration and minor sewing repairs are available. Sprucing up garments sparks a “jolt of satisfaction,” Miller said.

Miller observed that “‘Millennials’ (born 1982-2004) use even less clothes that need to be finished by a professional. People wear less-formal attire — more khakis and comfortable, flannel shirts” with wrinkle-freer blends. “We still see many sports coats and slacks. But people don’t get dressed up as much in formal dresses, tuxedos and nice suits to celebrate New Year’s.”

Miller’s is closed from Christmas to New Year’s Day. “When we reopened, it’d get crazy” with volume, Jeff said. “You’d see wine and champagne all over suits and gowns.” Spot-cleaning and deep-steaming ensues.

Miller suggests people promptly blotting rather than rubbing new stains. Old stains set in and are harder to remove. It backfires to cleanse with soda water, which can leave a water ring.

Most unusual are not stains but “what you find in clothes,” such as jewelry, he said. “We’ve found marijuana, credit cards, and thousands of dollars over the years. Even checks (each) for $100,000 and up. We’ll call, to return all valuables. Customers feel relief to get back a wedding ring, watch or car keys.”

For more on Miller’s Fine Drycleaning, call 693-7426 or check millerscleaners.com.

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