Gum Buster

By The Insider
Sunday, November 6, 2005

BUSTIN' LOOSE: I'd worked in the dry cleaning business for 15 years, and began looking for another career when I stopping working for six weeks due to a job injury. A friend told me about this gum removal business. I began doing sales calls for GumBusters, and traveled around the country demonstrating the gum-removal machines. I eventually decided to give up the traveling and purchased the license to the local business -- everything from the machines to the van. We've been removing gum now for three years -- everywhere from Adams Morgan to the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo. And while we spend a lot of time in the D.C. area, places as far as way as Chicago and Jacksonville call us to see if we can fly down and solve their gum problems.

STICKY SITUATION: Our system is different than other gum-removal systems. Typically, companies use high-pressure streams of water to blast the gum off the sidewalk and into the street. We use a low-pressure and low-water system, combined with steam and detergent. This allows us to remove the gum completely while being environmentally friendly. It takes about five seconds to remove one piece of gum, and depending on how bad an area is, we can usually get it done in a day or two. Except for Adams Morgan. We were there for three weeks.

CASH BLOW: Pricing depends on how long we're there. Places we can get done in a few hours start at around $400 and go up from there. Typically, businesses will have us come twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. Some places -- like stadiums or universities -- want to buy their own machines because they have a constant need.

EXTRA FLAVOR: When you remove the gum it usually smells great -- and it's because of the gum's flavor. The dried gum on the sidewalk emits the gum's original flavor when it's emulsified. The smell is just something else that catches people's attention when they're walking by. We were at the Air and Space Museum, and I found tourists taking pictures by my GumBusters van. They'd come from across the country to see all these museums, and they were so excited to be taking a picture on the sidewalk.

WHO YOU GONNA CALL: I'm at the Baltimore Aquarium quite a bit and so a lot of kids shuffle by while we clean up the gum their counterparts have left. Inevitably, they start asking questions and it's not long before someone starts singing the "Ghostbusters" theme. But it's not just kids who are curious -- it's adults -- even mayors. Last spring I was at a press conference on a cleanup initiative for D.C., and Mayor Williams wanted to try the machine. He didn't want to put it down, and we had to pry it away.

BURSTING YOUR BUBBLE: You'd be surprised how much gum is everywhere. Generally, amusement parks and parking garages are the worst. But there are some hot spots in the District. The trees outside Ford's Theatre are covered in gum -- it's really amazing where people will put gum. My favorite brands of gum are Eclipse and Big Red. Since starting the business I've been more aware of dropping gum -- I try to find a trash can or at least something to wrap it in. And if I absolutely have to spit it out? Well, I make sure no one is looking.

As told to Kate Ghiloni


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