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James Watson, Jayhawk Cleaners
By Sarah Mote
November 10, 2015

Jayhawk Cleaners: Living and Leading a Legacy

Jayhawk Cleaners, Inc.
James Watson | Kansas City, Kan. | Main Street

James Watson is living and leading a legacy. As the current owner of Jayhawk Cleaners—also known as Jayhawk and Son—James, with help from family matriarch Bernice Watson, leads the oldest African-American drycleaner in Kansas City, Kansas. Jayhawk was founded in 1955 by his father, the late James A. Watson, Sr., and still resides at its same location on 1618 N. 7th Street.

Although the business is small, it is mighty as it consistently thrives to provide excellent dry cleaning and quality service by living up to its motto:  Providing excellent dry cleaning care for your daily wear.

We met James through the National Black MBA Association-Kansas City chapter, a premier African-American organization whose mission is to lead in the creation of economic and intellectual wealth by empowering minority business professionals through a wide range of business forces, including career and educational programs, entrepreneurship, lifestyle, and leadership. 

Below we asked James to share the challenges of upholding a family legacy—and his advice on what Kansas City could do better to support multicultural entrepreneurs like himself.

What inspired you to start your business?

For me, it was who inspired me. My dad would always bring my sisters and me to the cleaners on Saturday from an early age to observe and learn the business.  As I got older, he started teaching me the variations of mixing dry cleaning chemicals to remove multiple stains and techniques for pressing clothes.

My dad’s health started to fail during the time I graduated from college. So I stepped in full time and have been in business ever since.

What sacrifices in your personal life did you have to make to become a business owner?

Time (it’s never a 9 to 5 job) and money because you are the last to get paid.

When times got tough, what inspired you to keep going? 

My customers, who would tell me how they appreciate the service I provide.

What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?

In a word: change.  Many of our suppliers have gone out of business, clothing materials have changed and we’ve worked hard to maintain customers through the recession and job loss.

What have been your biggest triumphs so far?

I’m proud to lead a long-standing business with loyal customers, and I’ve been honored with awards from multiple nonprofit agencies in the community, including the NAACP, Friends of Yates, Inc., Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, for business and community leadership. In the past few years, we’ve also grown our Hispanic customer base.

What do you need to be an entrepreneur?

Dedication, patience, discipline, knowledge of service or product, enjoy interacting with people, budgeting skills, and passion for what you do

What can/should Kansas City do to be more business friendly for multicultural entrepreneurs?  

  • Create more events like Global Entrepreneurship Week
  • Offer more grant opportunities for multicultural/women entrepreneurs
  • Patronize these types of businesses on a regular basis and not just a “special” time of year

What is your favorite quote?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Connect with

Jayhawk Cleaners, Inc.
1618 N. 7th Street
Kansas City, KS 66101
Hours of Operation: Tues-Sat.; 8 a.m.-6 p.m.



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