Photo by Dan Starnes.
1011 Hunter's CleanersHunter Payne (right) and sons Winston and Collier run Hunter’s Cleaners.
When it comes to his 11-year-old business, Hunter’s Cleaners, owner Hunter Payne might rank his accomplishments in this order: working alongside his two sons, operating an environmentally sound facility and meeting customers’ expectations. Ensuring that each garment received is cleaned, preserved and returned in a timely manner seems like a pretty simple concept for a dry-cleaner. But there’s nothing simple about Payne’s business, or even Payne himself.
A Mountain Brook native, Payne has made Homewood home since 1993, where he raised two sons, Collier and Winston, who now help run the store.
“There are not many father and son businesses out there,” said Payne. “So I consider that an accomplishment, that we can work together. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but our adversity has made us stronger and more successful. We all bring something different to the table, and at the end of the day, we have a great business.”
A shared love of music in the Payne family has paved the way for Hunter’s Cleaners to be the exclusive launderer for nearly every entertainer who has performed in Birmingham over the last decade. The idea came when the Paynes tried to find a way backstage at the Crawfish Boil.
“We always come up with solutions pretty quickly,” said Payne. “And the solution here was to clean the bands’ clothes; that would give us a lot of access to different musicians and that environment.”
Beginning with the Verizon Wireless Music Center, Payne made an offer no one could refuse: “I said, ‘I have a central location, all equipment on site, and we’re offering our services to you and your performing artist guests 24/7. I don’t care what time, what day, if they need anything dry-cleaned, laundered, mended, we’ll do it.’ So they took me up on it!” Payne has formed a relationship with almost every production company in town, including the BJCC, Alabama Theatre, Alabama Ballet, Alabama Symphony Orchestra and the Birmingham Children’s Theater.
“We’ve cleaned clothes for just about anybody you can think of; you name them, I’ve cleaned their clothes,” said Payne. He especially loves supporting up-and-coming artists. Perhaps one of the greatest perks of being a Hunter’s Cleaners customer is the free CDs you’re likely to be handed when you pick up your clothes.
Payne usually arrives at 4:45 a.m. and completes the cleaning before the day’s heat sets in.
“We have the longest business hours of any dry cleaner in town, but I’m always accessible if anyone needs me,” he said.
Payne also does a lot of the cleaning himself, taking extra steps to make sure the clothes are handled properly. “I do it because the garments are very important to the customer and most of the clothing is not inexpensive,” he said. Restoration of specialty items such as wedding gowns is also done on-site.
In the fall of 2008, with his business firmly established, Payne decided to broaden his service to the community at large by running for city council.
“To me, it’s about giving back,” said Payne. “And your goodwill to your community. Being a business owner with some hard times ahead of us, I thought I could get out there and offer some common sense solutions and some fiscal discipline. And I never leave Homewood anyway!”
Not many people can call their dry-cleaner a friend and community advocate. When two men were at large in the Roseland/Mayfair neighborhoods after robbing the Piggly Wiggly, Payne was quick to check in on a stay-at-home mom that lived nearby. When a devastated mother gave Payne a bracelet with a website bringing awareness to her daughter’s drug overdose, he has never taken it off. And when it came time to write this article, Payne was quick to list other Homewood businesses that he felt deserved the exposure more. These are all characteristic of Hunter Payne… and he’s pretty good at getting stains out, too.