Laundromats are unique icons in the American landscape, often housed in single purpose buildings with flashing facades. I have always had a fondness for them.
Forty years ago, I found myself in Billings Montana on a business adventure. My apartment had no washer and dryer. So on a cold Montana day, I found myself in the Family Style laundromat. In walks this beautiful redhead. The same one I had noticed at a business event the night before. Summoning my courage, I introduced myself. Her name was Kathleen. Now forty years later, we are still doing our laundry together. This time though it's in our lovely home near the Catawba River in the Carolinas. Yes, I have a fondness for laundromats.
The first laundromat opened in 1934 in Fort Worth, Texas. The industry rapidly grew with the urbanization and increased dense living. At its zenith the industry produced revenues of $5 billion a year. However, in recent years, the destiny of the industry has declined with revenue dropping as much as 30%. The apartments of today have washer and dryers in each unit, reducing the need to go to the laundromat.
Urban laundromats have fought this trend with ever more unique twists to keep customers coming in. Some of these include Sit and Spin Cafe in Seattle, Brainwash Cafe & Laundromat in San Francisco, Spin Laundry Lounge in Portland and Sunshine Laundromat & Pinball in Brooklyn NY.
Most owners though have been unwilling to update with the newest technology given the uncertain future. Many laundromats show the wear and tear of age, rag tag machines and walls needing painting.
There are always those times when the mounds of dirty clothes overcome the capacity of the home units. Off to the laundromat you go. Knowing that it’s like a slice of time out of your life, holding you there until the last piece of clothing is washed and folded. Still, for a few coins, the spin of machine and fate, there is always the chance of that new life changing and wonderful encounter.
Further Reading: “Urban Clothes Line”, “The Decline of the American Laundromat” by Marc Vartabedian - The Atlantic, “Self Service Laundry” - Wikipedia