Volume 22, Number 38 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | January 29 - February 4, 2010
Downtown Express photos by J.B. Nicholas
Have bucket, will clean. Phillip Prado washes over 100 stores a week and he gets around on an electric bike, sometimes using the sidewalk instead of the street.
Window washer cleans up pedaling around Downtown
By Julie Shapiro
Phillip Prado is building a window-washing empire one storefront at a time.
A gregarious businessman with a bucket of soapy water dangling from his handlebars, Prado washes the windows of more than 100 shops a week, many of them Downtown.
Beside the clear benefits of the job — no boss, no overhead — there’s another boon that some people don’t realize: the money.
“You wouldn’t think a guy like me with a bucket on his bike has a boat and antique cars, but it’s a good business,” Prado said as he swabbed the windows of the Reade St. Animal Hospital on a recent morning. “Window-washing does OK for itself.”
Prado, 45, started Squeaky Clean Windows five years ago, after selling a similar business in Staten Island. Since then, his electric bike has become a familiar sight on Lower Manhattan’s streets, even on the coldest days of winter.
While many window-washers take the winter off, glass accumulates grime year-round, so Prado works year-round, too. He wears waterproof gloves from Alaska and a battery-operated heated suit that keeps him at a toasty 78 degrees.
“Even when it’s snowing, I’ll go out with antifreeze to wash the windows,” Prado said.
It was unseasonably warm one morning last week and Prado didn’t need any gloves at all as he washed windows up and down the streets of Tribeca. Prado worked quickly, splashing suds on the glass with a feathery wand, and then using one of his three squeegees to wipe the windows dry. After cleaning up any drips with a rag, he tossed his tools in his bucket and kicked off to the next location.
Tribeca’s narrow storefronts took Prado only a few minutes to clean, and he does them weekly for $40 to several hundred dollars a month. He charges more money for larger stores like ABC Carpet or places with lots of windows like Buckle My Shoe nursery school. Prado also washes windows for chains like CVS and Le Pain Quotidien, along with the Yankees’ and Mets’ retail stores.
Prado drums up business the old-fashioned way: by going door-to-door, looking for dirty windows and offering his services. That’s how Prado met Bruce Martin, who opened the Reade St. Animal Hospital with his wife last fall and quickly realized that he couldn’t clean the tall panes by himself.
“I knew I needed a real window-washer, but I didn’t know where to find one,” Martin said.
When Prado introduced himself, Martin was impressed by his friendliness and his willingness to work through the winter, so he hired him on the spot.
Many small business owners try to clean their windows themselves, but without the right supplies the task isn’t as simple as it sounds.
“He makes it look easy, but it’s not that easy when you try to do it yourself,” said Dr. William Han, owner of Tribeca Dental Design on Chambers St.
Before Prado stopped by, Han was using Windex and paper towels to attack the smudges on his windows. And how did he reach the top part of the windows, a dozen feet off the ground?
“I really didn’t,” Han said, shrugging and laughing. “People don’t look up, right?”
Prado was born in New Jersey and took business classes at City College after high school but never got a degree. He started washing windows when he was 17, first for a union at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and then for a business in Brooklyn. Prado started his own window-washing business in Staten Island, where he lives, but he sold it when he realized he could make more money in Manhattan.
Window washing is a territorial enterprise, and Prado found plenty of competition when he broke into Manhattan’s market five years ago. But he undercut competitors’ prices and won clients over by chatting with them and proving his reliability.
“There’s nobody I can’t talk to,” Prado said. “I could go into the White House and talk to the president or go into the ’hood and talk to the ’hood rats.”
Tall and lanky, Prado speaks quickly and smiles easily, enthusiastically describing everything from his window-washing methodology to his private flying lessons. He wears Bluetooth-equipped sunglasses so he can answer calls from clients while cleaning windows or riding his bike.
The electric bike is essential to his business, Prado added — he used to have a regular one but the extra power boost helps when he’s putting in 12 miles a day. Although the bike cost $1,800, Prado doesn’t lock it when he’s in Tribeca.
“That’s the good thing about washing windows: I can see everything behind me,” Prado said, laughing.
A bike is also better than a car, he noted, before taking off the wrong way up Greenwich St. and then turning the wrong way down Reade — a 30-second maneuver that a car would have been hard-pressed to handle.
As Prado squeegeed his way through Tribeca last week, many proprietors came out to greet him. A mother sitting near the window at Yuya Nail Salon on Church St. propped her baby up to watch Prado work. The baby stared wide-eyed, with rapt attention. Prado said that when he cleans the windows of Buckle My Shoe, all the children race over to look.
Prado does not disclose exact sales figures, but he said he brings in more than a comfortable living just by working two days a week. Those two days are long, often starting before 7 a.m., because Prado does all the windows himself.
“I figured the only way to do it right is to do it myself,” Prado said. “I don’t miss days. I don’t get sick. I don’t B.S. anybody.”
The recession recently cut into Prado’s business, as stores close and owners have less money to spare. But Prado makes up for the losses by pulling in new clients, and he may soon expand into Brooklyn.
“I love it,” Prado said, “and I wouldn’t do anything else.”