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How a Dry Cleaning Business Helps the Unemployed Find Jobs

"If they could feel good in that clean, freshly pressed skirt or suit, they might sit taller or present themselves better. That little push might help."
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"If you are unemployed and need an outfit clean for an interview, we will clean it for FREE."

That's what the sign says outside of Plaza Cleaners in Portland, Oregon.

Owner Steve Young put up the sign in March 2010. He saw a similar one outside of a dry cleaners in New York City when he was visiting his son, a schoolteacher, four years ago.

Forget souvenirs. Young brought back an idea from his trip.

And so, four years ago this month, the message outside of Young's two stores appeared.

Since the large, prominently displayed signs went up -- you can read their letters from a block away -- a large number of jobseekers have taken the dry cleaners up on the offer.

People bring in suits. They bring in ties. They bring in skirts and slacks and shirts. A couple of women even brought in bathing suits.

Kathey Butters, the manager of Plaza Cleaners, said they cleaned the bathing suits, no questions asked.

"Who are we to say?" Butters asked, chuckling.

"It doesn't matter what they bring in. My staff knows it's not just another black skirt. Yes, we may have seen five black skirts that day, but for that customer, it fits. They feel good when they're in it," she said.

"If they could feel good in that clean, freshly pressed skirt or suit, they might sit taller or present themselves better. That little push might help."

And that little push has helped. Over the years, people have come back to say thank you and say they got the job.

"It isn't us though. It isn't Plaza. It's our paying customers that make this possible. If we didn't have our regular customers, we couldn't clean at no charge. That's who deserves thanks," said Butters.

In addition to the issue of who deserves credit for the free cleaning, Butters wants to clear something else up.

There is a picture of the Plaza Cleaners' sign that's gone viral over the past couple of years. It is on Tumblr and Pinterest and Facebook every once in a while.

A lot of those pictures are accompanied by a caption that says, "Plaza Cleaners in Portland, OR, helped over 2,000 unemployed workers who couldn't afford dry cleaning. The store's owner estimated that it cost his company $32,000 dollars."

Here's what Butters wants you to know:

It's not true. Someone made it up.

She has tried to contact some of the websites to run a correction. But, trying to stop something that's gone viral is a little like trying to catch snowflakes. It's impossible.

For the record, no one at Plaza Cleaners has counted how many customers have taken them up on the offer in the last four years. Nor have they said how much the free dry cleaning has cost them.

"How can you put a dollar figure on something like that?" Butters asked.