CHICAGO — In the true spirit of entrepreneurship, Laundromat owners and operators are always thinking of ways they can grow business, both from an operational and financial standpoint.
While some operators offer extra services within the parameters of the industry—like wash-and-fold and dry cleaning—others have ventured outside the box and have sought unique ways to bring customers through the door.
THE LAUNDROMAT PROJECT
While some operators have established extra services with solely profit in mind, one New York-based non-profit organization is helping area Laundromat owners turn their stores into “de facto community centers” through free, drop-in art workshops and classes.
Founded in 2005 by Risë Wilson, The Laundromat Project has set up various workshops and programs throughout Laundromats in the greater Manhattan, Bronx and Brooklyn areas, with the goal of bringing art education to those waiting for their clothes to finish in the rinse cycle.
“New York is notable in that Laundromats are ubiquitous, regardless of what your living circumstances are,” says Petrushka Bazin Larsen, program director.
The organization’s various programs resource local artists with a production budget and honorarium to create art projects and education in public places, like local Laundromats.
Among these programs is Works in Progress, which was established in 2009, and first offered at The Laundry Room in Harlem. Since its inception, the program has expanded to two other Laundromats: Fulton Street Laundry in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, and at Lucky’s Laundromat in Hunts Point.
The Works in Progress workshops, offered every weekend from noon to 3 p.m., June through August, provides “inter-generational” art projects to customers, according to Larsen, like kaleidoscope-making, kite flying and sidewalk art.
The art projects, Larsen says, affords those with downtime at the Laundromat a tool and outlet to express their inner creativity.
When it comes to forging relationships with area Laundromats, Larsen explains that owners and Laundromat customers recognize the value the program affords.
“Generally, Laundromats are associated with boredom and chores, but when you bring free art classes … it kind of transforms the regard for that space,” she says. “We’ve become, sort of, a mainstay in each of the neighborhoods where we work when people expect us to be there because we add this value to their experience in doing their laundry.”
Asa Nathanson, owner and operator of Fulton Street Laundry, recognizes this value.
“Parents always have the problem of what to do with their kids, especially on the weekends. They’re extremely busy … and kids get bored, so The Laundromat Project is there, and they just take care of the kids,” he says, adding that not only do parents appreciate the program, but his team of attendants, as well, in terms of keeping the store managed.
“It’s much better for everybody,” Nathanson says.
Hosting The Laundromat Project at his facility allows him to create a “neighborhood club” atmosphere.
“My Laundromat is a community. People who come to my Laundromat know each other [and] something like The Laundromat Project … definitely [brings] a community activity.”
Nathanson says he and his customers are anticipating the return of the Works in Progress workshops this summer. If the program hadn’t existed, he would create something similar himself, which Larsen and her team encourages.
“Anybody can do this work. Anybody can be a neighbor,” says Larsen.
EXTRA SERVICES, EXTRA CONSIDERATIONS
Adding an extra service to a Laundromat requires a team effort, according to Michael Lair, general manager of Harvey Washbangers, a Laundromat and bar/restaurant in College Station, Texas.
“From the very get-go, involve somebody that has that experience in the planning phase [and] in every step of the way, because jumping into something, whether it’s a bar, whether you’re serving food or not, [involves] an incredible amount of complexity.”
Lair adds that constant reinvention and flexibility is also of importance.
“If you’re going to be offering the same thing day-to-day, you’re at a significant disadvantage to the big-box chains and all the larger businesses out there,” he adds. “If you’re a mom-and-pop place, the good news is you can be flexible.”