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Half a Century and Still Going Strong

Paul Partyka |

It’s not uncommon for children to be asked about what they want to be when they grow up, but it’s rare for a seventh-grade student to actually get hands-on experience in a future profession. Greg Morrisey is the exception.Morrisey, 63, owner of the 1,100-square-foot G.M. Laundromat in Oak Park, Ill., is celebrating his store’s 30th anniversary and 50 years in the coin laundry business.AN EARLY START“I started working in a Laundromat on the west side of Chicago in 1958,” Morrisey recalls. “A laundry had just opened, and I went in to buy a soda. I talked to the owner, and he was looking for some help. My job was cleaning, making change and doing any other tasks I could. I earned 35 cents per hour.”At this time, top loaders were 20 cents and the dryers were 10 cents for 10 minutes.After high school, he parlayed his laundry and repair knowledge into a new occupation. He attended trade and service schools, networked with industry people, and eventually developed his own laundry repair route. One of the keys was meeting a repairman who had a few stores that he didn’t want to service. Morrisey took those stores.“I fixed everything — motors, water pumps, timers, etc. All the typical problems.“Some people say that the old equipment was better, but I think today’s equipment is much better. Top loaders aren’t tough to work on, but the front loaders can be a little tough because of the circuitry, relays, switches, etc. Getting at the motors can also be tough, especially if you have a store with limited room behind the equipment.”Morrisey, serving as his own contractor, eventually built his own laundries in Chicago and in Glendale Heights, Ill. At one time, he operated three self-service laundries at once.“My first store was in the early 1970s in Chicago. In 1975, I built my first Oak Park store.” In 1979, he bought his current store.“Business has been pretty good over the years, until this recession. This is the first time that I can actually say I notice a recession keeping business down a bit.”AN EVOLVING INDUSTRYMorrisey has seen the industry evolve over the years, most notably the move to more large-capacity front loaders, larger stores, electronic payment systems, and amenities such as Internet service.One underrated change is improved coin chutes and meters, he says. “[The chutes and coin meters] used to take any type of slug in the past.”While many changes have taken place in the stores, there’s been a greater change when it comes to industry image, he says.“The store I first worked at looked pretty good back then. I was impressed. That same store today would look bad. Today’s stores have so many bells and whistles. In the past, stores were dark, and there was often water on the floor. There was plenty of nonworking equipment, and it wasn’t unusual to see bums sleeping on the folding tables.”AN OAK PARK FIXTUREMorrisey doesn’t have a lot of time to sit around and reflect. “Today, I spend about four to six hours a day at my store. I have 35 different hats to wear. I still do 99% of my own maintenance and repairs, and am still comfortable doing it.” His wife, brother and another person also put in time at the laundry.Being a successful owner means being able to change, he says. “I try to adjust to the different needs of my customers, even with little things like changing the soap in the vender.”Morrisey’s equipment mix is somewhat unusual. He still offers 20 top loaders at his store, but has added four 35-pound washers to go along with his six single-load dryers and five stack dryers.People have told him to get rid of the top loaders, but structural problems, including a half basement, have prevented him from making major changes.“The top loaders are still popular, but the front loaders are preferred on the weekends in particular.”He’s a strong believer in providing plenty of personal service and cleanliness, and keeping all the machines up and running. Located in a Chicago suburb, the store pays homage to its famed local “son,” architect Frank Lloyd Wright. “We have a Frank Lloyd Wright theme, with the wallpaper and trim around the top of the walls. We try to make this store as good as we would want it to be if we did our laundry here.”A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHINGIf you talk to a laundry owner about business, you will inevitably talk about customers. Morrisey is no exception.“I have developed plenty of friendships here. I know a lot of people by name. We have even invited some of these people to our other home in Wisconsin.”As you might imagine, he’s seen his share of interesting things at his laundry. “We had a lady go into labor. We had several romances begin in our store.”Morrisey says he has also had his share of unusual customers. One woman has been dubbed the “mixologist.”“The mixologist is a lady who uses several machines at once. She likes to use a little soap, a little bleach, and then starts to mix them up and add them to the different machines. She’s a chemist in action! By the time she’s finished, there’s a mess on the floor and it requires mopping. She’s strange, but nice.“Another guy we call ‘Otis’ from the old Andy Griffith show. Sometimes he comes in with his laundry, and then disappears for a day, sometimes even two or three days. We know his laundry, and his red laundry bag, so we would dry it for him. We don’t know where he goes and have never asked him!”Morrisey’s fondest memory is of his daughter. “Patty grew up here in the store. All the customers got to know her. As the years went by, she got to learn how to count here and separate the currency. She learned the numbered washer system. We would also hang her drawings and pictures in the store. She really loved that.” He even named one of his laundries “Patty’s Wash & Dry” after her.In 2007, Patty received a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Midwestern University. “This store helped put her through college,” Morrisey says.STILL TICKINGCustomers have come and gone, but Morrisey is still upbeat about the store. “This neighborhood has remained nice. We have a lot more condos and multiple-housing units here, which have had a very positive impact on business.”If someone asked him about investing in a self-service laundry, he would offer several tips.“I would say that you need to be a business-minded person; sincere about the industry. This is not an absentee investment. You have to want to be a part of the store. Security is also a big thing. You need to have cameras and alarms. It’s also an industry that still has room for a lot of changes.”While the past holds some fond memories, his attention is also focused on the future.“Down the line, five or 10 years, you’re going to see much larger stores and fewer smaller stores. There will be no more 1,100-square-foot stores going up in the years to come. The ‘coin-op’ name is also going to disappear, because card/credit card payments are becoming more popular.”The industry has changed greatly during Morrisey’s 50-year odyssey, but despite some ups-and-downs, such as taking in only $8 on the first day of business at his current location, one thing has never changed: “I never thought about getting out of this business.” 

About the author

Paul Partyka

American Coin-Op

Paul Partyka was editor of American Coin-Op from 1997 through May 2011.

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