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Super Shine's Angela Fowler Celebrates
10 Years of Clean Windows in the Short North
by Jennifer Hambrick

September 2008 Issue


Angela Fowler brightening up the Short North neighborhood.
Photo/Rick Borgia

W. C. Fields might not have understood Angela Fowler’s love of dogs and children, but they’re what keep her in business.

“Dog noses and kids with sticky fingers are a lot of job security for me,” Fowler said.

As owner of Super Shine window cleaning service, Fowler is celebrating ten years of beautifying Short North businesses and homes. Not only was Super Shine born in the Short North, its current roster of clients reads like a Who’s Who of Short North enterprises. And Fowler, 36, says she’s just gearing up.

In high places
As a young girl, Fowler loved climbing the trees on her family’s five-acre Marysville homestead. She’d run outside, jump up and grab a limb. Then foot-hand-foot-hand she’d climb the ladder of branches as high as she could. From her treetop perch, she’d admire the smooth rural landscape and the open blue sky, she’d see the creek trickling through her family’s land and the pond where she caught frogs on summer days. When a storm was brewing, the black clouds told her how long she had to climb down from the tree and get home before the rain set in.

Fowler says exploring her family’s land made her into the tomboy she was. She remembers being dragged through a field of dried cornhusks by her friend’s horse – and living to ride again. Though she didn’t exactly live on a farm – they had no animals of their own – her family lived off the land.

“I’ve been cutting firewood since I was three,” Fowler said. “We had a wood-burning stove that we heated our house with. We cut wood for our fires in the winter. We had huge gardens and apple trees.”

Fowler’s family was close. Her mother used to arrange wedding flowers for a florist and was around the house a lot as Fowler was growing up. Her three older half siblings had already left the nest when she was still a child, but Fowler would visit with them during the summers. Her father had worked various jobs before becoming an engineer for the State of Ohio. At one time he was a lineman for the electricity company, a dangerous job that required working with wires and cables high up on electrical poles. Fowler also remembers stories about her uncle, a steel worker who saw his share of danger on the job.

“He used to walk those beams with nothing (securing him),” Fowler said. “He fell one time and somehow he caught a flagpole on the way down that broke his fall.”
About a year after Fowler graduated from high school, some friends took her rappelling in the Hocking Hills.

“It’s kind of an adrenaline rush,” Fowler recalled, “and it’s so beautiful out there. There was one place we used to go, and it was right next to a waterfall. There’s really no other way to get that close.”

She was hooked.

Window on the world

Fowler learned the ropes - literally and figuratively - of high-rise window cleaning in 1994. Once she got roped up, Fowler could rappel off the buildings she cleaned.

Around the same time, Fowler moved from small-town Marysville to Columbus, looking for work. Her boyfriend washed windows for Clean Windows of Columbus and encouraged her to come work with him. The company’s owner, Don Clark, said he could use the help. Fowler signed on in the spring of 1992.

It didn’t matter to Clark that he had hired a woman to work with his all-male crew in the male-dominated field of window cleaning.

“She was kind of like a diligent person,” Clark said, “and women seem to work better than men because they were more conscientious about what they were doing. She would do a good job. We didn’t have to go clean up behind her. She was doing the work right.”

And she loved it. Working outside in the spring and summer weather was heavenly. Working with icy water in frigid air for long stretches during the winter was a different story.

“When winter came around, I wasn’t prepared to work outside,” Fowler said. “I was pretty miserable.”

She quit Clean Windows of Columbus and went to work indoors in food service – cooking, serving food and bartending. She was working as a cook for Don Pablo’s restaurant when the owner of Cameron Service, another window cleaning service where some of Fowler’s friends worked, learned she had some skills he could put to work.

“Their boss found out that I rappelled and that I had cleaned windows for another business,” Fowler said. “The owner of the company would come to dinner and would come back into the kitchen and try to offer me a job. I used to rappel for fun, so I thought, ‘I can get paid for this. This is awesome.’”

In 1994 Fowler joined Cameron Service, where she learned the ropes – literally and figuratively – of high-rise window cleaning. She learned how to double-knot her main support line to a structural fixture on the roof of a building and affix her safety line to a different rooftop structure.

Once she got roped up, Fowler could rappel off the buildings she cleaned. Sometimes, she says, she’d push herself away from the building and soar out to catch a lamppost, then swing back to the building. For a while she also tried to figure out a way to do flips in the air.

“It’s so much fun,” Fowler said. “Once you check all of your equipment, you really don’t have any worries. There are times you just swing all the way around the corner (of the building) just because you could.”

The rappelling part of her work was easy for Fowler, but the brute strength her job required was her Achilles’ Heel. At about five-and-a-half feet tall and 110 pounds after a big meal, Fowler is a running back, not a guard. Before you can start descending down along the windows of a high-rise building, you have to get yourself – and your ropes, your bucket and any counterweights you might be using—up to the roof. Elevators almost always leave you with a few flights of stairs to climb to get to the top.

“When I first started,” Fowler recalls, “I was the only girl and (my manager) was just like, ‘You can’t do this job.’ And I was like, ‘Are you firing me?’ and he was like, ‘No.’”

Fowler finally convinced her boss that she could clean windows as well as her male co-workers could – and then some.

“He realized that I could do all the little things and fit into the little places that he couldn’t,” Fowler said. “He was a big guy. He weighed 250. When you’re on ropes, they stretch, so he would rappel and he would stretch past the first window, and I had no problems doing that kind of work.”

Eventually her crewmates left the company, and Fowler didn’t feel as safe with their replacements. She left Cameron Service in 1997 and went back to Clean Windows of Columbus. For almost a year Fowler and a friend tried to buy that business, and in the meantime independently acquired clients to add to Clean Windows’ roster.

But the deal fell through. Fowler directed her energies to serving the handful of clients she had gathered on her own, all of which were in the Short North. She worked three other jobs – at a gym, at a bar and at a DIY store – to pay the rent while she built up her window cleaning clientele on the side. In September 1998, Super Shine was born.

The sparkling Short North

Restaurant owner Kent Rigsby was one of Angela Fowler’s first clients in the Short North.
His wife Tasi (left) also uses Angela’s service at her neighborhood restaurant, Tasi Café.
Photo/ Rick Borgia

Fowler says one of her first clients in the Short North was Kent Rigsby who hired her to clean the windows of his now-defunct restaurant K2U. She still cleans windows at Rigsby’s Kitchen and Tasi Café, and has acquired other Short North clients on Rigsby’s referral. The more clients she got, the more referrals came her way. She has nearly 100 commercial clients in the Short North alone, even though she’s never advertised.

“I’ve only worked through referrals or word of mouth or people who see me and stop me on the street,” Fowler said. “So I do a lot of residential for the clients whose commercial business I do.”

One of those clients is Jo Johnson, owner of the Short North pet boutique Posh Pets. Given Johnson’s largely canine clientele, nose prints often appear on her store windows. She thinks the dogs remember the treats she gives them inside the shop.

“It’s sort of a standing joke with my customers that when they’re walking past the store in the evenings when the store is closed, that their dogs will stop in front of the store waiting to go in and get their treats,” Johnson said. “I can see nose prints on the window, I can see paw prints on the door.”

All that mess has to go, Johnson says, so her merchandise can lure people into the store.

“If we have sparkling windows, (customers) can hopefully see inside the store, see something that really just begs them to open that door and come in,” Johnson said.
Fowler now also cleans windows in Johnson’s home.

“It’s almost like you’re not separated from the outside,” Johnson said. “You know that there’s a separation there, but you really can’t see it because the windows are so clean it just feels like you could reach straight through them.”

Pia Hiotis, owner of Europia Wine and Spirits, says Fowler is a godsend. At first Hiotis and her mother cleaned the store’s windows. That changed – and Europia’s windows got cleaner – when Europia manager Bob Corkwell told Hiotis about Fowler, his friend.

“If you do it yourself, you see streaks everywhere,” Hiotis said. “I never could get (Europia’s windows) looking the way they should. In the afternoon I get a lot of sun, and then you could see every mistake. But not (Fowler’s). Hers are perfect.”

That’s what Katharine Moore, a German Village resident, executive director of the German Village Society and one of Super Shine’s many clients beyond the Short North, says, too. Moore has had Fowler clean windows in her home for the last decade, and she won’t trust just anyone with the job.

“I’m very mindful of who I let into my house and give keys to.” Moore said. “It’s such a joy to have somebody that I just hand the keys to, and it’s fine. She’s great at cleaning windows, but that sense of security is probably worth even more to me.”

Moore was so impressed with Fowler’s work that she once gave her neighbors Jan and John Clark a gift certificate to have Super Shine clean the leaded glass windows in their century-old German Village condo. At first John Clark was bemused by the unusual gift.

“I thought, ‘okay, that’s kind of odd,’” Clark recalled, “but my wife said, ‘That’s a neat idea.’”

When they cashed in the gift certificate, they were blown away.

“I got home first after work that day and I didn’t recognize the place,” John Clark said. “I thought, ‘oh my God, I didn’t realize windows could be that clean.’ They just sparkled. I called my wife at work and said, ‘You wouldn’t believe this. The windows are clean.’ It was the next day that we both just sat there with our blinds open. The windows were beautiful to begin with, but we didn’t realize they could come to life as they did (from beneath) a hundred years of dirt and film.”

A day in the life of a window cleaner

Fowler says exploring her family’s land made her into the tomboy she was while growing up.

So what is it about Fowler’s work that elicits such high praise? Isn’t window cleaning window cleaning?

“Some people have the impression that to wash windows you don’t have to have any intelligence, but it takes a lot of intelligence to wash windows – to use the equipment, to do it safely, to please people, to be courteous,” Clark said. “Say you called me to come and clean your windows in your house. I’ve got to be someone who’s trustworthy. I’ve got to be someone who’s courteous. If I come into your house and make you feel uncomfortable, you’re not going to recommend me to anyone else.”

Since Super Shine specializes in commercial and residential window cleaning, Fowler knows how important it is to uncover windows from beneath weeks – even years – of grime while maneuvering around fragile retail items and personal belongings.

Fowler thinks of her work systematically, but there’s also an aesthetic element.

“You can’t pull the dirt up from the bottom (of the window), because that’s just going to put more dirt on the glass, so it’s just a matter of getting the water away from the corners and to the middle of the window, down,” Fowler said. “And people are always like, ‘You look like an artist,’ because when you do it, you basically move the water with your squeegee.”

On a recent Short North cleaning run, Fowler and her employee Jake Young found their rhythm in a ballet of soap and water. Young smeared soapy water all over the windows with a sponge attached to a long pole. Fowler followed behind him, making figure-8s with her long-handled squeegee on the canvas of white suds. Each swoop of the squeegee left a new design – a long leaf, ocean waves.

Young says Fowler taught him everything he knows about window cleaning in the two-and-a-half years he’s worked for Super Shine. You’ve got to have good squeegee technique, you’ve got to soak up excess water with your towel. But Young also has learned Super Shine’s secret.

“You’ve gotta spoil your customer,” Young said. “That’s what Angela spends a lot of time doing. There are other window washing companies that send their guys around with the direct intention to get this account, and (Super Shine customers) say they don’t care what the price is, they don’t care if they’ll save money. It’s ‘No, Angela does them.’ It really has inspired almost what you might refer to as brand loyalty. She’s just done it for so long that she’s the go-to lady.”

She’s certainly the lady that Press Grill Manager Binoy Mathew went to when another window cleaning service solicited their business.

“We have a relationship with (Fowler). That’s why we don’t change it,” Mathew said. “We want to keep that relationship going because they do business with us the way we want it done. Angela does it the right way.”

After cleaning the outsides of the windows at Planet Smoothie, Fowler was about to go inside the shop when she noticed the small “accepted here” credit card signs on the front door.

“All these little signs hold water,” Fowler said, whipping the towel out of her back pocket and rubbing the signs. “It’ll drip down later if you don’t wipe it down. I hate drips and fingerprints.”

By now it’s an obsession. Fowler can’t walk down the street without noticing smudgy windows, and when they belong to her clients, she’s been known to stop then and there and touch them up. She gets downright compulsive right before Gallery Hop. This year, the Doo Dah Parade took place the day before the July Gallery Hop. All manner of hot, sweaty humanity lined up in front of the windows of Fowler’s Short North clients for the parade, bringing their sticky-fingered children and moist-nosed dogs with them. Fowler had already cleaned her clients’ windows that week, but she did a lot of it over again for free the next day – all this after playing at the parade with her band, McCallister.

“I came down Saturday to fix everything that was messed up and my clients were like, ‘You are crazy. What are you doing? You already cleaned the windows,’” Fowler said. “But I wanted to make sure that they were perfect for Gallery Hop because that’s so important for a lot of my clients.”

Movin’ on Up

Angela Fowler’s band McCallister includes members Daniel S. “Shammy” Anderson (left) and
Bob Corkwell, manager of Europia Wine and Spirits.
Photo/ Rick Borgia

Now that she is running her own business, Fowler can hire crew according to her needs. She says Tony Martinez, her only full-time employee, usually does the second-floor work on the ladder because he can more easily carry the equipment up the ladder than she can. Fowler herself does most of the work inside people’s homes, for which being a woman is usually an asset.

Though it’s difficult to find good, consistent window cleaners for her crew – it’s work Fowler says you either love or hate – Fowler hopes someday to offer high-rise service and to expand Super Shine into a multi-crew enterprise.

“I would like to have the crew and the equipment to have a crew Downtown and then have my Short North crew and have my residential crew. But I would have to still try and be a part of it all because I gotta know what’s going on,” Fowler said.

Even when Fowler, a self-described control freak, entrusts certain tasks to her crew, she’s taking care of other duties nearby and always takes the time to check her employees’ work. “I work with my crew every day because my customers are very, very important for me. I couldn’t do what I do if it wasn’t for their support,” Fowler said. “I go all over, but this neighborhood was kind of like my springboard. It’s amazing to me the amount of friends I’ve made just from working and how much everyone supports what I do.”

Including Fowler’s artistic pursuits. Many of her Short North clients have gone to hear her drumming and singing in clubs around town with the rock band McCallister. Fowler started the band five years ago with some friends, just for kicks.

“I had a drum set, and so I was like, ‘I can keep a beat. Let’s just jam,’” Fowler said. “We never meant to start a band and play out. We were just having fun and playing in my basement.”

Now McCallister’s taking on a life of its own. It has played in some of Columbus’ hottest clubs, including Skully’s, Little Brother’s, the Short North Tavern and Park Street Tavern. The group performs only original music and has about 25 original songs in its repertory, which the band members are getting ready to record.
“Everything Angela sets out to do – she doesn’t want to be bad at anything,” said McCallister member Daniel S. “Shammy” Anderson.

Fowler also says the Short North supports her jewelry-making hobby at the booth she and some friends set up at ComFest each year. She has no plans to turn her hobby into another business venture, even though her wire-and-gem-stone baubles have attracted on-the-spot buyers, like the flight attendant who bought one of Fowler’s necklaces right off of Fowler’s neck.

“She ended up buying it right off of me, which was good, because I needed a cab ride home from the airport and I was out of money,” Fowler said.

These days Fowler’s business keeps her too busy to travel. Instead, she stays nearby, cleaning windows, so that her clients can see the world around them. Luckily Fowler loves her work, even if it is a little unusual.

Super Shine window cleaning company can be reached at 614-806-1050.

© 2008 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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