Garish lights, torn magazines, uncomfortable seats (if any at all), such is the lackluster picture of conventional laundromats, a place where urbanites try hard not to linger. A few entrepreneurs smelling opportunity, and washing machine and detergent manufacturers concerned about their public image, are opening alternative laundromats where users can do their laundry while sipping tea and reading a book.
Copenhagen, with its Laundromat Café opened in 2004, is one of the first cities to embrace the concept. The café and laundry, which includes machines and a library, closely resembles a conventional coffee shop where you would enjoy a cheesecake with a cup of steaming Darjeeling. Except that you end up conversing at ease with someone at a neighboring washing machine. In Denmark, the café-laundry is actually part of a broader concept called “café fusion” that has nothing to do with the cuisine of the same name. Transient spaces (shops, laundromats …) mix a variety of activities to help customers pass the wait time. Apparently the recipe is working because a Laundromat in Reykjavik Iceland will open next March. In France, the café-laundry “Les chaussettes de l’archiduchesse” opened in 2005 in Rennes. It offers the same type of services in a pop and festive decor. Elsewhere in Europe, one can find the Berliner Mangelwirtschaft, which can also serve as a cultural venue, or Cologne’s Cleanicum, a sports clothing shop with 20 washing machines where customers can wait while watching sports videos projected on the wall.
Live showcases for brands
This trend has not escaped machine manufacturers and coffee and detergents distributors. Munich boasts the latest corporate-funded project. Opening in 2010, Bosch and Henkel’s Wash & Coffee, in the heart of the Glockenbachviertel, a trendy district of the Bavarian capital, welcomes guests in a sober but welcoming 130 m2 space, white as a sheet. On the 6.50 euros set menu: a load of wash in a Bosch machine, free coffee, magazines, a terrace, and a space to surf the web while waiting for the spin cycle. The two German brands, confident in the concept, are planning to set up shop in other cities, including Düsseldorf.
Like Munich’s Wash & Coffee, in 2006 LG opened a sort of concept store in Paris, except their services were almost free for customers washing their laundry in the brand’s machines. Although Washbar is now closed, it brought together in two floors, laundry facilities, a cafe and a digital space where users could watch movies or surf the Internet while waiting for their dirty duds. While the brand regarded Washbar as a showcase for its latest washing machines, flat screens and computers, customers saw it as a way to do laundry for the price of a drink. Persil, Bosch, Tassimo … brands have made these places laboratories where they can test their latest products on an audience of young, tech-savvy, prospective buyers. In this context, brands are spoiling their customers: at Munich’s Wash & Coffee, clients can get their laundry ironed for prices that are hard to beat.
Translated by Genny Cortinovis