Every couple of weeks, I will I will take larger items that need to be laundered to our local laundromat. It is only about 5 minutes away by car. Our prewar brownstone does not offer the best laundry units, and doing multiple flights of stairs for minimal return on energy input (my laundry) doesn’t inspire me on a Sunday afternoon.

Sitting in the laundromat, I started to muse about the economics of these instituions. A short search brought this, courtesy of the Coin Laundry Association (yes, you read that right):

Coin laundries thrive in periods of both growth and recession. During periods of recession, when home ownership decreases, the self-service laundry market expands as more people are unable to afford to repair, replace or purchase new washers and dryers, or as they move to apartment housing with inadequate or nonexistent laundry facilities. The market size grows proportionately to the increase in population. The public will always need this basic health service – people always need to wash clothes!

 

Spend ten minutes in your local laundromat and you are likely to see an interesting cross segment of society. Generally, these laundromats in the area closest to you would reflect the demographics of your area. The laundromat closest to me (under two miles) is mainly a reflection of urban professionals and older working class whites.

However, there is another laundromat to my east, about 10 minutes away in a poorly constructed part of the city. That area tends to be predominantly filled with the working-poor or government assisted housing. This laundromat is also close to several intersecting general transit lines.

I find examples like the two laundromats to be topics that society should spend some time investigating more. When we speak about class in America, check your local laundromat. They’re a better economic indicator than restaurants or shopping malls because laundromats are unglamorous. They are the masses toiling to clean and launder clothes in the same way that has been for years and performing a perfunctory task which has (in essence) remained unchanged for a century.

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