FARGO-Janitors and custodians are often the unsung heroes of the workplace. They primarily work evenings and overnights, so it's easy for people to take for granted that the floors are clean, waste baskets empty and the paper towels restocked when they arrive at work or school each morning.

Their work is a little more difficult this time of year as they maneuver around the office Christmas tree and haul out remnants of the holiday potluck.

It doesn't bother Jeff Mitchell, who has cleaned office buildings for Dow Services of Fargo for over eight years.

"Who doesn't like a Christmas tree in the middle of the place you're working?" he asked. "This is the glitter cleanup time of year, but places have to decorate for the season and I appreciate that."

Mitchell really only has one complaint and that's people putting full cups of coffee in the garbage.

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"I'm sure everybody knows where their sink is," he said. "Go dump it out in the sink because when you pull out the garbage, you have coffee spilling through the bag."

'Stress-free' work

Mike Dow and Julie Belch started cleaning office buildings when they were just kids. Their father, Ron Dow, owned Dow Services, a commercial cleaning business he incorporated in 1986.

Today, they run the business that serves over 65 banks and commercial office buildings ranging from 1,000 to 154,000 square feet in the metro area, Grand Forks and Fergus Falls, Minn.

"We don't do any industrial or supermarkets or big-box stores," Mike Dow said. "We just focus on the nicer office buildings."

Dow Services employs 80 full- and part-time employees who work between one and five hours a night. They typically clean just one building or one area of a building Monday through Friday nights.

Their work includes vacuuming, mopping, emptying the trash, cleaning the bathrooms and restocking paper products. They also sell the paper products.

"That way they don't have to worry about when the can liners or the toilet paper is low," Belch said. "Our supervisors just write us a list, we order it and they take it out to the client."

Many of the Dow Services employees have been with the company for several years.

"To be honest, this is one of the easier jobs," Belch said. "It's completely stress-free. You're working after everyone's gone. You've got your own area to clean and you're by yourself."

That's what Mitchell appreciates.

"Basically, you show up there. You put on headphones, burn a few calories, and get paid for it," he said.

An inside job

Not all businesses employ outside help. Costco requires its employees to pull "double-duty."

"For the most part, we do our own (cleaning) because all of our employees are trained as sanitization experts. ... A lot of the deep cleaning is done towards the end of the day and into closing," said Angela Bauer, general manager of the West Fargo store.

The store closes at 8:30 p.m. most nights and workers are typically finished cleaning by 10 p.m.

Bauer said Costco employees are expected to be multi-taskers.

"We have some of the greatest staff here. Everybody really enjoys working in other areas. It doesn't matter what the task is," she said. "Everybody is maintenance, everybody is a merchandiser, and everybody is member service."

The Moorhead Center Mall employs custodians who take care of the common area, but tenants are responsible for cleaning their individual stores.

Melissa Radermacher, the mall's former general manager, said she couldn't have been successful at her job without the support of the custodial staff.

"A thank you goes a long way with them," she said. "I could not have done my job without them. They need to be appreciated."