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Soapies Laundromat

by Kevin Flaherty

Not many people would consider buying and operating a business open 15-plus hours a day, seven days a week, to be “retirement,” but Earnie Daniels and his wife Lue do. Earnie had worked 27 years at American Linen Supply on 10th and North, ran Aurora Health Care’s laundry facility for another 15 years, and wrapped up his career at Goodwill Industries. Earnie, an affable man with graying sideburns and mustache, jokes that after 47 years in the laundry and textile business, he has soapsuds in his blood. So the couple, who had owned other businesses in the past, acquired the Laundromat on Locust Street in 1999 and named it “Soapies.” By owning and managing Soapies, the couple offers a service that people need (clean clothes), surround themselves with the diverse people of Riverwest, and still make a living. The Daniels, married for 43 years, seem perfect for this business: as the parents of seven children (including two adopted kids) and foster-parents for 25 years, they clearly like creating a home-like environment where people can come and do their laundry, study, and watch TV. Earnie’s extensive industry expertise learned at large-companies, his knack for fixing machines (“he can fix anything,” beams his wife), and the couple’s prior experience running smaller businesses (they’ve owned a hardware store and a bowling alley) help explain their choice to “retire” in this manner. The store, a laundromat for decades, is located at the northwest corner of Fratney and Locust Street. The large windows offer lots of natural light and the smell of detergent and fabric softener pervade the air. Although some people leave while their loads are being washed or dried, others stay to study on wide window seats along the wall, read the free newspapers, play video games, or watch TV. There are vending machines for snacks and vending machines for those who didn’t bring their own detergent or laundry bags. Two “super-changers” make change for folks to use in the various machines. The Laundromat’s 16 top-load washers cost $1.00 per load, the two commercial side-washers cost $1.50, and the two industrial washers cost $2.50. The 16 regular dryers cost $1.00 for 44 minutes, while two “super dryers” cost 25 cents for each ten minutes. Expenses for the business include the energy costs of keeping all the machines running and the costs to carry the assorted vending inventory. Like many family-owned businesses, the company does not employ people outside the family. A brother-in-law helps out by opening the store in the morning and cleaning. A security camera helps keep an eye on the space when the family is not around. It’s not uncommon to see children waiting for the bus inside the store and away from the cold. Lue says she hated to see the children waiting in the cold and invited them into the store provided they didn’t disturb the customers. This generosity of spirit extends to the occasional help the couple offers large families who may have run out of change before all their laundry has dried. “I enjoy meeting so many people; you get educated by the diversity of the different groups,” says Earnie. Diversity is something the Daniels truly cherish, as evidenced by their participation and financial contribution to the “Diversity is our Strength” campaign formed in response to the racist fliers distributed by a hate group last summer. Soapies, 2901 N. Fratney St., is open seven days a week from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. The Daniels are debating extending the hours to 11 p.m. and have experimented with offering a pickup and delivery service. The Laundromat may be reached at 263-4120.