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Surviving and Thriving: Revisiting Laundries in the COVID-19 Age

Former NFL running back James Betterson poses in his BetterClean Laundry in North Philly in this American Coin-Op file photo from 2018. Betterson says his store has seen a nearly 50% increase in wash-dry-fold in recent months.

Surviving and Thriving: Revisiting Laundries in the COVID-19 Age

In this American Coin-Op file photo from 2017, Suzy Kee poses in her We’ve Got Your Sock Laundromat. When business slowed due to the pandemic, Kee implement new pickup and delivery software in concert with an enhanced website, plus boosted Facebook ad spending to get the word out.

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Surviving and Thriving: Revisiting Laundries in the COVID-19 Age (Part 2)

Pandemic doesn’t halt drive of some familiar faces

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — When you’re best known for hitting the open road in search of unique laundries, slamming the brakes on touring can put a real dent in trying to uncover the next hidden gem.

A pandemic may have forced this writer to park at home, but it didn’t halt the drive of some familiar faces. This month, I’m behind the keyboard — not the wheel — circling back to see how a handful of Goin’ with Cohen profiles are weathering these unprecedented times.


James Betterson — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Former NFL running back James Betterson knows a thing or two about how to pivot and not lose your footing. So when the novel coronavirus hit Philly, he reached into his playbook and scored with wash-dry-fold.

The over-the-counter service racked up a robust 48% increase in May and June, according to the operator, whose story was featured in July 2018.

Eight out of 10 dropping off bundles were new faces. He attributed the rise to a combination of neighborhood residents looking to relieve the stress of another chore and the reality of clothes piling up back home.

More loads meant more staffing for the 66-year-old owner, who added a team member to an 11-to-7 day shift. Beefing up the lineup tackled order processing efficiently while maintaining BetterClean’s spotless reputation.

The operator stepped up to help employees reliant on public transportation to get to work by chipping in for ride sharing when metro bus service was interrupted as the city battled both a pandemic and unrest.

Betterson kept masks on hand for patrons lacking face coverings. He said the gesture “helped calm tension” that might otherwise give rise in the laundry aisles.

BetterClean Laundry’s Kelly green tables were outfitted with signs encouraging folding at safe distances.

The retired Eagles player says the pandemic hit home when word reached him that one of the store’s regulars who he enjoyed trading gameday stories with had contracted the virus and died.

With drop-off maintaining an upward trajectory and his self-service trade staying steady — albeit more evenly spread over the week — Betterson was upbeat.

“I’m glad we’re considered essential and allowed to serve the community,” he says. “We’re needed in this time when people are so concerned about their health, but also with that comes a great responsibility on my part to make sure I keep my staff and customers safe.”


Suzy Kee — Poughkeepsie, New York

When I introduced readers to Suzy Kee three years ago, her clothesline timeline knocked my socks off. The display of Americana fashion remains on display, and its proud curator still warmly welcomes you — but now with a few guidelines.

Kee requests customer compliance with a new protocol of wearing masks, adhering to 6 feet of personal space, and applying a spray mist of isopropyl alcohol to touch points after each washroom use.

Her stepping up of store sanitization to include a thorough deep cleaning of the premises each day may have received high marks from her clientele, but it came with a big hit to payroll expenses.

Sales got socked as well by the pandemic: “At the beginning, the Laundromat was hemorrhaging money for months,” she recalls. “Revenue was off by 50%.”

The resilient store owner, who works the cozy We’ve Got Your Sock seven days a week, refused her landlord’s offer to waive April’s rent as she was “determined to weather the course.”

Slowdowns in self-service foot traffic mirrored the decline in activity outside the home, she says, adding that some regulars preferred to skip the trip and load up a relative’s washer.

Kee took the initiative to implement new pickup and delivery software in concert with an enhanced website. She also boosted spending on Facebook ads to get the word out. The investments are paying dividends, the owner reports, with income gains in the summer brightening her outlook for the remainder of the year.

“I always tell customers who share their woes that spring always comes at the end of winter,” she relates. “Sometimes, winters can be long, but spring always comes back.”

The genial host, whose front lounge is frequented by neighbors catching up on local happenings over a free hot beverage, went quiet when the pandemic took hold. “Sadly, that has stopped,” Kee laments.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!

Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].