CHICAGO — Coin laundry is mostly cut and dried when it comes to wash and dry. But there’s an unconventional side to this otherwise conventional business. Let’s take a walk on the wild side and you can ponder some of the industry’s head-scratchers.
BETTY IN BOISE
Come rain or snow, Betty the Washwoman toils atop a pylon sign in Boise, Idaho, stooping over a wooden wash tub, oblivious to the bustling traffic below on Vista Avenue.
Betty outlived her employer that once stood below — a decades-old Maytag coin-op, now occupied by Paul and Mary Jean Wegner’s Cucina di Paolo storefront Italian eatery. Homemade lasagne may have replaced the Home Style Laundry, but Betty keeps bending and churning.
It might seem odd that a mechanical laundress made of plywood and chicken wire would find a place on the Wegners’ savory menu, but to these restaurateurs and others, there was no saying farewell to the beloved Betty when the coin-op went dark.
After the mannequin’s own motor and gearbox hidden inside the wash tub finally petered out, the Wegners spearheaded a community drive to repair the iconic fixture and keep her washin’ away.
Enlisting the financial support of neighbors and fellow business operators, as well as the assistance of local craftsman Bruce Whittig, the ever-smiling Betty was placed back into service in January 2016. The repair bill came in well under budget with Whittig and Idaho Electric Signs donating labor, and the remaining funds were donated to a food bank.
That success propelled the civic-minded Wegners to orchestrate a calendar project with Betty as the pin-up model. Volunteers dolled her up in an assortment of seasonal costumes ranging from a January potato sack get-up to a September school uniform while decorating the steel wash tub to complement her attire.
The calendar’s cover and centerfold paid special tribute to the original coin-op laundry with a beautiful watercolor rendition of the store’s curb sign and its hardworking washwoman by artist Roland Giampaoli.
Professional photographer Tracey Bish shot the layout and proceeds from sales of the 2017 calendar raised over $25,000 for The Idaho Foodbank to serve the needy.
Even with all the hullabaloo, Betty continues to concentrate on her task at hand, turning her head with a glance south toward the Boise Airport before returning to the scrub tub.
HARDTOP TO HARD MOUNT
Driving along US Highway 1 in Lugoff, S.C., northeast of state capital Columbia, you’re sure to do a double take of Ken Davis’ Clean Brite laundry sporting a classic two-door yellow Studebaker automobile perched on its rooftop.
This Service Laundry Machinery customer’s coin-op occupies a building that at one time housed the Boykin Studebaker car dealership. Today, it’s a gleaming lineup of hard-mount washers, not hardtop automobiles, on offer.
As for what’s under the car’s hood — and how they managed to get the darn thing on the roof — let’s just say it makes for a great conversation piece while the clothes tumble.
AHHHH, THE COIN-OP DRUMBEAT
If counting sheep just won’t cut it, try falling asleep to the soothing sounds of a coin-op by clicking on the free website mynoise.net.
“Laundromat - Your Laundry Noise Machine 24/7” brings one back to a familiar place where the drums are always humming and the water is constantly filling — the perfect backdrop for those who just can’t get enough of their store after a long day.
Need more water or want to ramp up the extract on the centrifuge? Click or tap to adjust any of the 10 sliders controlling each audio stream to suit your taste. Website visitors also get to choose from seven soundscape modules, ranging from “Last Guest” and “Cottons” to “Mixed Load” and “Night Programme.”
The talent behind mynoise.net is Stéphane Pigeon, a digital signal processing engineer with a passion for sounds. The Laundromat noise machine is just one of the site’s generators. Although you can listen in for free, there is a solicitation for online donations to keep the sound stream alive.
After being lulled to sleep, you’ll be fresh and raring to go the next morning, ready to hit the wash aisle and hear all those coins hit the collection bucket.
Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.