Ablitt’s Fine Cleaners Featured in Santa Barbara Independent
The S.B. Questionnaire: Sasha Ablitt
Talking Travel and Plastics with the Third Generation Owner of Ablitt’s Fine Cleaners
“It’s the best thing I could have done,” says Sasha Ablitt about taking charge of Ablitt’s Fine Cleaners and Tailors, Santa Barbara’s multi-generational, family-owned dry cleaning institution at 14 West Gutierrez Street. “I love the business. It’s about the people — the customers and my employees.”
More than 40 people work for Ablitt’s. Sasha proudly uses open-book management, providing her employees with transparent financial information so that they can make better business decisions. “I teach them how to run a business,” she explains. “I teach them how to forecast. They all get interpersonal leadership training, and they get to be heard. I love to do that for my employees. They all take pride in what they’re doing.”
Sasha’s grandparents Alberta and Neil Ablitt came to Santa Barbara in 1949 with the goal of buying a business. They looked at Enterprise Laundry, where Enterprise Fish Company is now located, but eventually settled on a dry cleaning business, then called St. Paul Dye Works; they also purchased the building, which is now home to Ablitt’s Fine Cleaners.
But, explains Sasha, “My grandparents didn’t want anybody in the family to go into the dry-cleaning business. They considered it the bottom of the food chain.” So they sold St. Paul’s in the 1960s to Russell Kraft, but kept the building.
Sasha’s dad, Neil Ablitt, worked for Caterpillar motors, and moved the family around quite a bit, with stops in Mexico City, Quebec, and Winnipeg. Sasha was born in Peoria, Illinois, but raised mostly in Canada from 1975 to 1984. That year, Neil and Sue Ablitt decided to move back to Santa Barbara, where they purchased the dry cleaning business back from Kraft and re-christened it as Ablitt’s Fine Cleaners.
“When I moved back here, everyone thought I was Canadian,” laughs Sasha, who entered Carpinteria High as a sophomore and then attended SBCC — “the best thing that could have happened to me!” she says. She transferred to UCLA and got a degree in aerospace engineering in 1992. “I wanted to be an astronaut and a pilot,” she admits. “Too much Star Trek.”
After graduating, she got an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and was hired by Honeywell Aerospace in the turbo machinery department.“I have a patent for the environmental control system fan for the Boeing 737, the fan that pushes the air that cools you off,” she admits casually.
“My story is a bit weird,” confesses Sasha. “I gave up on engineering. It was just too boring. It was so tedious and time-consuming. I love the idea of science, but I was a female in engineering in aerospace, and there weren’t a lot of us.”
Honeywell offered her work on the corporate side of the business as an internal auditor. “I learned how a CEO runs a multinational conglomerate,” she explains. “I lived in Hermosa Beach and traveled all over the world. Every six weeks, they sent me to a different business unit and I learned how that business worked, their strengths, their weaknesses, and I’d make recommendations to corporate. It was a lot of fun.”
In 2001, Sasha got pregnant and quit Honeywell when they wanted her to move to their Phoenix headquarters. Her father was thinking of retiring and Sasha reached out to him. “As a single mom, it was a difficult choice, coming home,” Sasha acknowledges. “It was important to me when I took over the business that I pay full price for it.”
Not only did Sasha kept up the standards of Ablitt’s, but she implemented eco-friendly practices that were ahead of the curve. She installed two 90-pound Green Earth dry cleaning machines, which uses pure liquid silicone made from sand that is not toxic to the environment.
She also started to look for a solution to 1,000 pounds of plastic they collect per month from the sheets that cover the clothes. It’s now sent to the Trex company to make outdoor decks. She put her money where he plastic went too, explaining, “I had a deck in my house made out of recycled dry cleaner’s plastic.”
It’s been 17 years since Sasha bought the business from her parents. “I look at my daughter and it helps me mark the time,” she says.