CHICAGO — Move over Hard Rock Cafe, watch out Johnny Rockets. There’s a freshly laundered spin on music and retro-themed décor. At Florida’s Rock & Wash and Connecticut’s Sock Hop chains, it’s a wash and dry rather than a burger and fries being served up in era-inspired environments.
The temptation to kick off your Keds and take a walk down memory lane is just what owner Gerry Casey had in mind when he stepped out of the world of finance and into coin-ops to build up the three-store Sock Hop Coin Laundry chain in Milford, Conn.
Here, checkerboard floors and soda shop tables ooze feel-good Americana. Cheeseburgers and malts aren’t on the menu, but Casey’s take on “state of the art laundry equipment with a retro vibe” is.
“If it isn’t fun, don’t do it,” the operator says. “I want people to come in and smile and have a good experience doing their laundry at a fair price.”
His nostalgic approach to coin-ops is well-orchestrated with attention given to each and every element. Casey doesn’t splash color, he works it into his branding. Staff uniforms, laundry bags, tabletops — even the handy loose-change coin cups — are fire engine red.
Custom signs convey messages using fonts in keeping with the italicized, old-school store logo and vie for wall space along with decals of dancer silhouettes and classic cars.
The operator gave thought to taking the Sock Hop theme all the way, but later shelved the idea. “I stopped short of asking staff to wear roller skates and poodle skirts,” he laughs.
Those passing by the unobstructed storefront windows are greeted by the laundry’s largest front loaders, which range in capacity from 80 to 90 pounds, depending on the location. Spotlights are trained on the machines to showcase the chain’s claim to fame of offering up the biggest machines in town. “I treat them as pieces of art,” he explains, “something that will catch someone’s eye as they’re going by and say, ‘Wow, look at that place!’”
Given the color scheme and blend of stainless steel and chrome, Casey made a point to include laundry and cleaning services under Sock Hop’s retro LP phonograph record logo so there was no mistaking spinning machines for spinning vinyl.
With three stores and six years under his belt, the 56-year-old owner is as passionate about laundry as he is of a bygone era in American culture. After two decades in mortgage banking, he traded in a suit and tie for jeans, believing coin-ops could reconnect him with his youth.
The first Milford store involved cleaning up the liens from the prior operator and then undertaking a rejuvenation from the basement up — Sonotubes and all. Casey’s timing couldn’t have been better. Sock Hop opened its doors days after Hurricane Sandy pounded the East Coast in 2012. The event flooded his store not with water, but hordes of storm-ravaged residents.
An image of the iconic Rosie the Riveter along with her “We Can Do It!” motto hangs by the front counter and serves as the motto for Casey and his staff. While his team has a reputation for churning out first-rate wash-dry-fold bundles, he’s been known to get on his hands and knees to clean machine crevices with a toothbrush — a practice carried over from his earlier days detailing vehicles for car shows when cotton swabs were the tool of choice to tackle air vents.
“Why would people want to go to a dirty place to clean their clothes? I want it to be gleaming,” he states, adding, “It’s easy to be the cleanest laundromat in town when you’re brand-new. It’s harder when you’re 6 years old.”
The second and third Sock Hops dotted the map of this coastal Connecticut community of 54,000 residents within three years’ time. Each laundry was in decline, rehabbed, and rebranded with Casey’s signature package.
Machine capacity growth mirrors that of the chain. Washers top out at 60 pounds at one laundry and 80 pounds at the two latest acquisitions. Multi-load dryer capacity followed suit, with 75-pound tumblers making their way into the mix.
Black control panels and chrome trim, topping off the stainless steel and white machinery, is picked up by the matching bar stools and tables, while striking a contrast with the alternating red-and-white folding tables. The checkerboard vinyl floor tile in two locations — and red painted concrete in another — provides the laundries with sleek, clean looks underfoot.
Reconfiguring store layouts afforded Casey the opportunity to reorient machines, boost throughput, and expand social space. Patrons can pull up a bar stool to one of the cafe tables or belly up to a crane game for a chance to take home a stuffed animal. The enhanced atmosphere achieves a “wholesome family vibe” synonymous with the brand, the owner says.
The only jukebox in the joint is a wall decal. Requests do come in from time to time to play some doo-wop music and the genial host happily obliges during the holidays.
Casey believes branding a coin laundry is key and pays dividends. “Absolutely,” he responds when asked if a theme store improves the bottom line. “I can’t imagine someone making a major investment in a business venture and having nothing but white walls.”
And as for customers removing their shoes in the wash aisle, Casey chuckles at the thought. The Sock Hop, he insists, is strictly a play on words and certainly not a requirement for regulars, although he expresses confidence his spotlessly clean checkerboard floors would be up to the task.
Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.