Opinion: Laundromats are dying in Canada. Can’t call it a wash
Nancy Pearson is a Victoria, BC-based writer who tells stories and coin issues on her blog, The great adventure of Canadian laundromats.
When Beach Solar Laundromat owner Alex Winch discovered that one of his customers had lost his job because chemotherapy had made him too ill to work – and therefore unable to make his regular visit to the Toronto laundromat – Mr. Winch intervened. He paid for the washing and drying himself every week until the man recovered and could find a new job.
“Anyone can suffer a health problem, an economic setback,” Mr Winch said.
After a customer told Nancy Seto, owner of Laundromat Yummi Café, that he had to choose between paying $5 to dry clothes or buying food for his three children, she and her husband started a program to access to the laundry financed by donations. Money came in from across Canada to pay for customers’ laundry, no questions asked.
“Wearing clean clothes makes them feel better about themselves,” Ms. Seto told me.
These are just two of the many stories I’ve heard of how laundromats across Canada offer more than clean clothes – they offer a helping hand when needed.
Others provide free soap or free laundry days; some have organized a system of payment in advance. In some laundries, shelter covers are washed free of charge. Abandoned clothes are donated to thrift stores; a landlord let unemployed clients use the discarded clothes for job interviews.
But now public laundromats are the ones in need of a helping hand, as owners are turning off faucets across Canada faster than at any time in the industry’s 65-year history.
In 2004, 1,784 laundries and dry cleaners offered their services across the country (Statistics Canada groups these types of businesses and many offer both services). That number fell to 1,092 last summer, after another 70 closures since 2020.
Many factors contributed to this: soaring rents; Urban development; rising water bills and soaring electricity and gas prices; staff shortages; fewer customers. Decades-old machine parts have also become difficult, if not impossible, to find, as have craftsmen who can make necessary repairs. Some owners want to retire but cannot find a buyer; corporate debt becomes unmanageable when there are not enough coins in the machines. The COVID-19[feminine] the pandemic has only compounded many of these pressures.
Should this be a concern for those of us who are lucky enough to have a washer and dryer at home? Absolutely.
Clean laundry is essential to personal hygiene and public health, which is why laundromats have been declared essential services during the pandemic. Access to a service that helps people maintain a healthy standard of living also increases equality and equity. When a laundromat closes – temporarily or permanently – hardship and social inequality often result.
People struggling with health issues, poverty or homelessness can also benefit from other services and connections established through many laundromats.
Staff at The Laundry in Courtenay, British Columbia, help clients — especially those without housing — connect with social service agencies. “When we see people in need,” manager Suzanne Tucker said, “we try to encourage them to see these different organizations,” such as a mobile health outreach unit; these organizations also give laundry coupons to their customers. In Ottawa, meanwhile, the Community Laundry Co-op offers support to its members, many of whom are new immigrants and refugees, by referring them to language and settlement services.
Even Pope Francis, seeing the need to restore dignity and social justice among homeless and low-income people, opened a free laundromat in Rome in 2017.
Over the decades, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in Canada have relied on laundromats: students, renters, travelers, homeowners whose machines break down or whose wells run dry, and large families who have to make several brewed weekly. Commercial customers, including restaurants, medical clinics, yoga studios, ski resorts, Airbnbs, hotels, and fire departments, also rely on wash-and-dry services provided by many laundromats. automatic.
So how can communities support these risky ventures? The Community Laundry Co-op, which operates on donations and grants, offers a model; another is the new laundromat and public shower on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, which was opened by a non-profit company after several years of fundraising. If a new development forces a corner-op to close, local governments could require developers to work with the owner to find a new location and cover start-up costs.
Closing a neighborhood laundromat can have consequences that go far beyond a decrease in clean clothes. Let’s make sure the ones we have today can keep the tap on, so they can continue to serve our communities and the people who depend on them.