MENLO PARK – There’s a stain in Menlo Park that needs cleaning. It’s not on a piece of clothing, but on the location of a dry cleaning business. Erik Ybarra has spent the last two months trying to wash it out.
Ybarra opened West Bay Cleaners the day after the previous owner left in January.
That man, Edwin Gary Clark, allegedly defrauded his dry cleaning customers out of almost $700,000. Police arrested him, and he faces dozens of charges.
Customers stopped coming, even though Ybarra was now the owner under a different name.
"People wanted to avoid the shopping center simply because they didn't want to come around,” Ybarra said.
He even ran into trouble securing a credit card service.
"According to them, and this was their words, we were blacklisted. Our address was. So I had to get a letter from the bank manager, a letter from my landlord,” Ybarra said.
Ybarra wanted to let people know the store is under new ownership, and he has nothing to do with the previous owner. He put up a sign that says “Grand Opening.” He also proudly displays an article written about him from the local newspaper, The Almanac.
“I'm just really happy. I want to be able to support my local business; I don't want to go somewhere else. It's just been great for the neighborhood,” said customer Carolyn Helmke.
Next door, the owner of Habibi’s Salon says they even lost customers in the aftermath. She’s happy things have turned around.
"We are telling [lost clients] that they're welcome to come back,” said owner Ines Acosta.
Ybarra’s customers are starting to trickle back too.
“One guy was walking bye, had a wool sweater on, and that was kind of dirty. He noticed we changed ownership. Took the sweater off his back and put it on the counter and said, 'hey, if you guys can clean this, I'd love to give you some business,” said Ybarra.
And why, you might ask, why open the same type of store in the same location?
Ybarra, wanted to work near his wife. She happens to own the dance studio next door.
“This gave me an opportunity to spend time with my kids, my wife, and make money at the same time,” he said.