Reversing the adage "If you build it, they will come," entrepreneur Paul McDonald is proposing to bring laundry and dry-cleaning services smack to where people are coming. Zooming, in fact, in droves.

McDonald, owner of six train-station-based Commuter Cleaners in New York and Connecticut, is proposing to build what he says are the country's first expressway drop-off cleaners in parkway service areas in the Bronx and in Westchester County, both in New York State, as well as in Connecticut's Fairfield County. The plan is to have commuters who are driving to work drop their dirty clothes off at a service area on one side of the parkway. On the way home they'll pick up their clean clothes at a service area on the other side of the parkway.

The laundry-to-go marries old-fashioned cleaning power to contemporary high-tech gizmos, both to save drop-off time and prevent check-in errors. Instead of saying, "Hello, can I help you?" attendants will greet customers armed with laser bar-code reader guns. The laser readers will capture the vehicle-identification number (VIN) bar-coded on New York State vehicle-registration stickers. McDonald says he can use the VIN to get a customer's name and address from Department of Motor Vehicles databases, saving customers the time it would take to give that information. "Nothing moves faster than New York," says McDonald. He estimates his system will shave four minutes off the typical five-minute transaction time required at a walk-in dry cleaner.

The service could be exceptionally profitable. McDonald says he expects to handle 200 customers at peak hours -- three times the number served by an average dry cleaner. He projects first-year revenues of $3 million and estimates system start-up costs, including four PCs, software, and laser readers, to run from $15,000 to $20,000.

McDonald is awaiting the go-ahead from the New York Department of Parks. If his plans win approval, he expects to start cleaning up in the fast lane soon.

-- Wendy Marx

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