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Calvary Laundromat: Attendants and Atmosphere Energize Customers (Part 1)

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Calvary Laundromat exterior
Calvary Laundromat is next door to a Hispanic market, and customers often start their wash and then do their grocery shopping. (Photos: Hannah Miller)

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Calvary Laundromat front counter
Attendant Oneyda Blanchard (left) and Calvary Laundromat owner David Makepeace confer at the front counter.

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Calvary Laundromat floor
An eye-catching design of brightly colored floor tiles seems to lead directly to 9-year-old Lameir Stevenson, taking a break from helping his older brother do laundry.

Hannah Miller |

RALEIGH, N.C. — The yellows, blues, greens and shades of red at Calvary Laundromat in Raleigh are decorator-designed to create an inviting atmosphere, says owner David Makepeace.

“It’s very vibrant,” says Makepeace, and makes customers feel more energetic. “It’s not depressing beige or white walls.”

But the intangible atmosphere, the one that customers find welcoming, is created by his staff, he says. Or, as one teen folding clothes with her mother put it recently, her family comes because “We know people here.”

“The people here” are full-time attendant Lizeth Brito and three members of a family that share work hours: mother Valentina Hernandez and daughters Oneyda Blanchard and Mirian Martinez. All are bilingual and can converse with Hispanic customers who make up a large part of the customer base.

“Valentina and I have worked together forever,” says Makepeace, 47. They are both veterans of the large, multi-site Medlin-Davis Cleaners operation in Raleigh, and he turned to her when he started Calvary four years ago.

Did she know of anyone who could help him? he recalls asking. “She said, ‘Yes, me.’”

Makepeace says he’s “extremely” happy with sales at the 3,000-square-foot laundry, located in a small shopping center in the midst of large apartment complexes. “The success of it depends on the people you hire,” he says. “I have wonderful attendants.”

He names several other contributing factors, including the technological sophistication of its 30 front loaders and 28 dryers. (They include one 80-pound washer, charging $7.75; three 60-pound, $6; six 40-pound, $4; five 30-pound, $3.75, and 15 20-pound, $2.50. Every dryer—two 75-pound models, 24 45-pound, and two 35-pound—runs six minutes for 25 cents.)

They all accept Presidential dollar coins, which Makepeace says are so popular among customers as a novelty that they keep them instead of using them. “I have to replace them all the time.”

The advantage of dollar coins, he says, is the flexibility they provide customers using the coin changer. Without it, anybody putting a large bill in the changer “would have to use two hands” to hold the resulting quarters, he says. “It’s much more manageable.”

Charlotte’s T & L Equipment Sales, which provided the equipment, programmed all the washers so that the seventh wash is free. That’s been a big hit and a factor in keeping customers coming back, Makepeace says. “The first thing they do is go look at all the machines and see if any of them are free.”

Another plus is the bright color scheme, he says. A decorator friend of Lee Makepeace, David’s wife and business partner, chose the overall design. “We started with the floor (multi-colored tile) and worked our way up the (yellow) walls,” David Makepeace says.

Lee and her dad, Riley Pleasant of Raleigh, painted squares within squares in contrasting colors to break up the long expanse. Even a neighbor contributed to the décor, bringing forth a large piece of art. Purchased at a yard sale for $15, it echoes the colors in the laundry and hangs over the entrance desk.

In the front of the store, a kids’ corner offers lots of windows, a wall-mounted TV showing cartoons, and walls that, for a few feet up, are actually blackboards. Children are encouraged to dig into a bucket of chalk and draw on them.

Makepeace noticed similar blackboard walls for children in a jewelry store and thought it was a clever idea.

“Parents are focused on sorting the clothes and getting them in the washers. If we can distract the kids for at least 15 minutes, the parents will appreciate that,” he thought.

For the adults, there are two large-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi.

Believing firmly that hands-on ownership makes for success, he visits the store three times a week, as well as other times when he’s called upon to repair equipment.

When he and his wife were planning the store, he personally canvassed the apartment communities near the site, which is on a connector road between two major traffic arteries. He discovered that most residents are Hispanic families.

He returned to personally put flyers for the new laundry under windshields at the apartments. He also mailed 1,500.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!

About the author

Hannah Miller

Freelance Writer

Hannah Miller is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C.

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