Small Business Startup: River Rat Cleaning


Tristan Smith, owner of River Rat Cleaning in Clayton, stands along the St. Lawrence River.

BY: Holly Boname    
After retiring from the Army in 2018, retired Staff Sgt. Tristan Smith decided that it was time for him to follow his dream of working for himself and opened his own business. 

     In the summer of 2020, a time when many wouldn’t dream of opening their own business following the COVID-19 outbreak, Mr. Smith opened River Rat Cleaning in Clayton.  

     “After retiring from the military, I decided to take a couple years off,” said Mr. Smith. “I worked a couple part-time jobs but found that cleaning relaxes me and it is another avenue of releasing my PTSD and stress. So, I decided to use that as a start for owning my own business and I have been busy since I started in June.” 

     During his military career, Mr. Smith had been stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, Germany for seven years, and completed two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before retiring from the Army on Fort Drum and moving to the Thousand Islands village of Clayton. He says that the community has embraced him and his new business.  

     “Right now I clean Channelside Restaurant, Foxy’s, the Rondette and River Day Spa and Salon,” said Mr. Smith. “I then also have about 13 private homes both on the mainland and on islands that I also clean.” 

     What separates River Rat Cleaning from others is the high-quality cleaning and sanitizing products that Mr. Smith uses, especially for his commercial clients who have strict guidelines to follow with COVID-19 protocols.  

     “I sanitize and disinfect to ensure that all the restaurants meet their requirements and then do general cleaning for my residential customers,” said Mr. Smith. “I will travel as far as Watertown, Cape Vincent and Clayton.  

     So far, Mr. Smith says that his schedule is pretty booked just from word-of-mouth and a small amount of online social media marketing. When asked what his plans for the next five years are he said he has hopes of expansion.  

     “As a disabled vet, I have taken what makes me feel better (cleaning and organizing) and turned it into a business. I would like to be able to hire other employees, specifically those who are disabled vets or others who suffer from anxiety issues,” said Mr. Smith.  

    When talking to him about his future plans, it is clear that he strives to help others in need who otherwise may not have the ability to find work due to their circumstances. Mr. Smith says he wants to provide opportunities to others, as he himself has been provided.  

     But hiring additional staff isn’t the only goals Mr. Smith has for River Rat Cleaning.  

     “In the next five years, I plan on being a little bigger than I am now in terms of jobs and location and I hope to expand to the cleaning and waxing of boats,” said Mr. Smith. “That and to have a little shop as well”