BEHAVIOR

Bubbles and beer mats

ANNE STEACY September 28 1987
BEHAVIOR

Bubbles and beer mats

ANNE STEACY September 28 1987

Bubbles and beer mats

BEHAVIOR

Wringer’s, a new coin-operated laundry in Ottawa’s fashionable downtown Glebe district, dispenses popular brands of detergent, bleach—and liquor by the glass. In Vancouver, patrons at The Clothesline Laundry, which has two ultramodern outlets, can enjoy the latest movie videos on television instead of simply watching their clothes flop around in the dryers. Indeed, in cities across the United States and Canada, enterprising launderette operators are offering their customers such extras as aerobics classes, fitness equipment, television and food. Said Robert Britton, a regular Wringer’s customer: “Most laundromats are so depressing that all you want to do is get out as fast as you can.” But Britton says that at Wringer’s, he always lingers for a beer or two in the bar. Declared Britton: “It is a great place to meet people.”

Canada’s first—and only—launderette with a liquor licence, Wringer’s opened in April, two years after coowner Shaun MacAdam, 25, noticed that successful combination while visiting relatives in Texas. Across the United States, flourishing franchise operations, with such names as Soaps and Bar Wash, offer beer and other enticements, including pool tables and big-screen TVs. The most successful of those, four-year-old Duds ’n Suds, based in Ames, Iowa, now has 73 selfservice laundries in 27 states. The chain’s owner, 25-year-old Philip Akin, said that he expects to have 120 outlets operating in 40 states by year’s end. Added Akin: “Fewer people today can

afford houses—which usually have their own washers and dryers—so our market share is rising.” For his part, MacAdam said that he is considering expanding his business, which he says is worth more than $150,000, into other Canadian cities. Declared MacAdam: “They are definitely going to take over, because people are so dissatisfied with the existing ones.”

MacAdam’s prices—$1 per wash load and 25 cents for every 10 minutes of drying—are comparable to charges at other Ottawa launderettes. But his patrons can lounge over deli sandwiches, salads, soup and drinks in the restaurant—which is separated from the coin laundry by a 30-foot-long glass partition—without having to jump up and check on their loads. Instead, they monitor lights on a scoreboard that flash on and off when the washers and dryers are in use. And because a washing and drying cycle takes up to 90 minutes, Wringer’s has two last-calls: one for laundry at 11:30 p.m.—and one for drinks at 1 a.m.

Many of MacAdam’s single customers say that they use that particular coin laundry because it gives them an opportunity to meet other unattached people. Economist Tina Milanetti, for one, acknowledged that she has a washer and dryer in her apartment. Said Milanetti, 26: “It is a great way to check out someone’s personal habits and wardrobe. Like, how many Polo shirts does he have?” Added MacAdam: “This is a good place to meet people because the pretences of a normal bar are not

here. People talk much more easily.”

Serving beer, wine and liquor on the premises is only one way of drawing new customers to a neighborhood launderette. In Toronto, the Bloor Laundromat and Dry Cleaners—located in a busy midtown shopping area that is frequented by young professionals and students—does so by offering Italianstyle coffee, crescent rolls and milk shakes, lottery tickets, television and video games. As a result, Stella and Ruben Panizza, who operate the business with the help of their four sons, say that they regularly attract as many as 1,500 clients each weekend. In addition to using the coin-operated machines and dry-cleaning service, customers can also choose to leave their laundry with staff members. They will wash, dry and fold it for a fee of 90 cents per pound and have it ready for the customers about two hours later.

Meanwhile, at the nine-month-old Great West Coin Laundry on Vancouver’s stylish Fourth Avenue, co-owner Douglas Mitchell recently added another attraction besides free video movies and a 24-square-foot children’s play area: a 1,000-square-foot workout room with a stereo system, $35,000 worth of exercise equipment and enough space for 15 people to do aerobics. Mitchell said that he is planning such additional features as a juice and coffee bar and a rooftop tennis court. His business, too, is acquiring a local reputation as a popular meeting place. Indeed, Mitchell, 36, said that he had recently attended a farewell party for a man and a woman who were leaving the city to tour New Zealand—and who had met in March while doing their washing in his launderette. Mitchell added that the clothes that people wash “tend to indicate whether they are single or attached.” An unmarried man would not likely be seen folding blouses with ruffles.

Ottawa’s MacAdam said that he expects business to increase dramatically this year—in large part because more than 32,000 university and community college students have now begun attending fall classes. To promote his operation, MacAdam recently handed out 2,000 tags that entitle Carleton University freshmen to one free wash each. As a result, 400 first-year students showed up at Wringer’s on Labor Day. Declared MacAdam: “Frosh are great—four years of dirty laundry.” Clearly, the response to launderettes that offer more than a choice of detergent strongly suggests that taking the drudgery out of washday could be the wave of the future.

ANNE STEACY

RICHARD HEFT

MARK LEIREN-YOUNG

DAVID TODD