August 11, 2004: Headlines: COS - Chile: Small Business: Boulder News: Chile RPCV CU grad Kermit Warner leaving Boulder, selling laundry after 12 years

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Chile: Peace Corps Chile : The Peace Corps In Chile: August 11, 2004: Headlines: COS - Chile: Small Business: Boulder News: Chile RPCV CU grad Kermit Warner leaving Boulder, selling laundry after 12 years

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Chile RPCV CU grad Kermit Warner leaving Boulder, selling laundry after 12 years

Chile RPCV CU grad Kermit Warner leaving Boulder, selling laundry after 12 years

Chile RPCV CU grad Kermit Warner leaving Boulder, selling laundry after 12 years

Owner blames rising costs

CU grad Kermit Warner has owned laundry for 12 years

By Sarah Toland, For the Camera
August 11, 2004

Over the last 40 years, a few names have shuffled about on the lease and other formal documents. Then, some time in the 1980s, a transient artist named Ben Brown painted a mural on the walls depicting his rendition of the Colorado mountains.

Outside of Brown's added artistry, nothing else has changed at North Boulder's Community Plaza Wash-O-Mat since the laundry opened in 1964.

Now, the Wash-O-Mat's current owner, the last in a line of three men to operate the business in its 40-year history, is calling it quits.

"Costs have come up around me faster than I can raise prices," says Kermit Warner, who started working at the Wash-O-Mat in 1984 before he became its outright owner in 1992. "I was hanging in there and doing OK, but then I just got so far behind the eight ball that I can't get out now."

Warner decided in May to put the business up for sale after more than a month's convalescence in the hospital with a broken leg.

"I got behind while in the hospital," says Warner, 60. "And in this business, you have to be in every day. I really can't make it run anymore without a huge infusion of capital and time."

These are the two necessities, as Warner learned from his 20-year tenure in the laundry industry, that he feels he no longer can give to Wash-O-Mat or to his other former Boulder business, Diagonal Laundromat.

In June, the former construction superintendent sold the Diagonal Plaza business, a laundry he had helped create in 1985 and assumed ownership of in 1992, to the building's landlord, Larry Burnett.

Warner hopes to sell the Wash-O-Mat to an interested buyer through the laundry equipment distributor Martin-Ray Laundry Systems of Denver, a company the Boulder resident has done business with for 20 years.

"(Martin-Ray) will find and interest the buyers if (the future owners) put in new equipment," Warner says. "And (Wash-O-Mat) needs all new equipment, I'm afraid to say."

For the curious buyer however, this likely investment in equipment is offset, Warner says, by the customer base the 40-year-old business has sustained over time.

"I have people that have been coming here for three generations," says Warner, a Utah native who has lived in Boulder since the '60s. "I have a lady who has been coming here since the day it opened. You wouldn't think customers would be this loyal."

It might be because Warner is a good friend to all his customers, says Jim Hohnstein, owner of Martin-Ray Laundry Systems.

"There's probably nobody friendlier with customers than Kermit," Hohnstein says. "I think he's been great to the laundry business."

Wash-O-Mat's other attraction is its location, Hohnstein says. The laundry is centered in north Boulder's busy Community Plaza and across the street from Ideal Market.

"(Wash-O-Mat) is in a very vibrant location," Hohnstein says. "Most Laundromats are set by themselves, and there's a lot of activity in that shopping center. We have a lot of people coming to us looking for Laundromats just like that."

The space itself, all 1,750 square feet of it, offers 23 washing machines, 16 dryers and three extractors. Warner employs a part-time staff of three to maintain service, answer customer questions and keep the place clean. This staff, which supplements the 40 to 70 hours a week Warner works himself, may be more than what he really needs, he says.

"My management style isn't the best," says Warner, who speaks fluent Spanish with both his employees and customers, a skill he acquired as a Peace Corps volunteer while in Chile in the mid-'60s. "I like to make families out of people, which makes it hard to let anyone go when business says you have to."

The most heart-wrenching decision Warner had to make, says the University of Colorado graduate, was cutting Eldon Folkers in January 2003. Folkers, who was the laundry's second-only owner from 1965 to 1992, continued to work for Warner after he sold the latter his former business.

"(Folkers) pointed out to me that you could make a living doing this type of stuff," says Warner, who met the former Colorado resident in 1975 through Boulder Timberliners Chorus, of which both men were members. "He loved to get up and come down to work at 4:30 in the morning; that was his idea of a good time."

Warner, who used to sing lead for the Timberliners, also adds that Folkers was "the best baritone I ever sang with."

Although Warner may be saddened by having to sell his business, he also feels that the city of Boulder has outpaced him; it's no longer tolerant of an old laundry owner.

"(Boulder) used to be a nice little salty place with a university attached," concludes Warner, who says that he and his wife, Jayne, hope to move to Oregon after the sale. "But now it's an upwardly mobile place, and I feel quite marginalized. Laundromat owners don't get a lot of respect in the business world in Boulder.

"You're allowed to be old and gray if you're a professional and belong to the country club, (but) I just feel like I don't belong here."

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Story Source: Boulder News

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Chile; Small Business



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