Volume 79, Number 7 | July 22 - 28, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Kathleen Kiley

Neighbors on W. Fourth St. lamented the impending closing of yet another local laundromat.

Village laundromats are spinning toward extinction

By Kathleen Kiley

Could the disappearing West Village laundromat go the way of the dodo? It seems to be heading that way.

Add to the list of closings the laundromat and cleaners at 302 W. Fourth St., run by the Lees, a husband-and-wife team who have been at this location for 26 years. The Lees said they were too busy to talk and didn’t want to draw attention to their leaving the area. Major Associates — the landlord, according to New York City property records — decided not to renew the lease. 

The Lees may not want to draw attention to their predicament, but neighbors took notice. In recent weeks since the news broke, it hasn’t been unusual to see people standing in front of the place, lamenting the closing of another mom-and-pop business. At the end of the month, the Lees will join a string of small storeowners in the Village who have gone out of business or have lost their leases. You can’t stroll down a street in the West Village without seeing a vacant storefront.

“I walk down the blocks and look at my favorite mom-and-pop stores and they aren’t going on vacation, but they are permanently gone,” said Carolann Lynch, who stopped to look at the Lees’s typed announcement informing customers they are closing on July 31. “It’s very sad.” 

The laundromats that have disappeared in the last few years include Harry Chong’s, at Waverly Place and Charles St., which closed after 60 years in business; the Stinky Sock, on W. Fourth St., and the Charles Street Laundromat.

Most recently, Cesmar Laundromat, on 11th St., closed earlier this year. 

“The mom-and-pop businesses are important to a neighborhood because of the relationships we form with the people who own them,” said Barbara Morris, who has lived in the area for more than 10 years and brings her cleaning to the Lees. “I have relationships with people, not with corporate brands. The landlords don’t seem to get it that business is all about relationships.”

Despite the recession, monthly rents are still high in the West Village, said a small retailer who asked to remain anonymous. He looked around at his business neighbors and pointed across the street at an empty storefront with more space; the landlord wanted to charge the former merchant double when his lease expired.

Asked about whether landlords are making deals with tenants, such as reducing rents and offering more months free at the start of lease, considering the slump in the commercial real estate market, another small business owner was somewhat skeptical about deals, despite his good relationship with his landlord.

“This is Manhattan,” he said. 

But a recent report from the Cushman & Wakefield real estate firm notes that retail rents are falling a bit, an opportunity for those retail businesses, including restaurants, that still have cash to expand or snatch up a less-expensive lease.

While that’s a sliver of good news, it doesn’t mean the small retailers will take advantage of lower rents. And it still doesn’t solve the dilemma of the dwindling number of laundromats. The idea of washing in the Hudson River, with eco-friendly detergent — to abide by Mayor Bloomberg’s green policies — was one solution offered by locals. But another seems less risky and more doable.

“A plunger in a tub of hot water works,” Lynch said.

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