Amherst laundromat launches 24/7 drop-off, pickup service

  • The exterior of Shine Laundry in Amherst is shown Jan. 10, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Nina Mankin, owner of Shine Laundry, attaches a card indicating the owner of the laundry in the bag. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

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    Nina Mankin, owner of Shine Laundry, talks Jan. 10, 2018 about plans to open a cafe adjoining the Amherst laundry business called "Local 63 Cafe." —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Mankin folds sheets at the business. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Nina Mankin, owner of Shine Laundry, folds sheets Jan. 10 at the business, which allows customers to drop off dirty laundry 24 hours a day via the “Big Blue Bin,” located outside. The bin is located on Montague Road in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • The exterior of Shine Laundry in Amherst is shown Jan. 10. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Mankin talks about plans to open a cafe adjoining the Amherst laundry business called “Local 63 Cafe.” GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • ">

    Nina Mankin, owner of Shine Laundry, stands Jan. 10, 2018 beside the "Big Blue Bin" which allows customers to drop off their laundry for cleaning 24 hours a day. The bin is located on Montague Road in Amherst.

  • Nina Mankin, owner of Shine Laundry alongside lockers where customers can pick up their laundry anytime after it is cleaned. The business is located on Montague Road in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

Staff Writer
Published: 1/14/2018 6:39:15 PM

AMHERST — Automation is a convenience of modern life that can limit personal interactions, best illustrated by the luxury of placing orders online and having products delivered.

While this is not an ideal worldview for Nina Mankin, a North Amherst resident who sees community as an essential reason for owning a laundromat at the Riverside Park Shopping Plaza at 33 Montague Road, it is her rational for creating a drop-off and pick-up laundry service at the newly renamed Shine Laundry

At any time during the day or night, customers can deposit their dirty laundry in what she calls the “Big Blue Bin” and then later return to get their cleaned and folded clothes.

“Twenty-four/7 you can drop it off, and 24/7 you can pick it up,” Mankin said. “People like to not have to interact with people.”

She believes she is offering an unusual model from other laundromats, which typically require staff to be working when laundry is collected and checked in.

Mankin’s system works like this: customers interested in the service will notice the large blue metal container, identical to those used by Goodwill and Salvation Army for clothing donations, on the sidewalk next to a Bank of America ATM, that she purchased for around $800.

When a load is dropped in, the customer texts or calls a number to let her know it’s waiting. Mankins’ goal is to have the laundry washed, dried and folded, placed in a Shine Laundry branded bag, and put into a locked cubicle inside the self-serve laundry pick-up room within 30 hours.

Mankin said she will send a text to the customer providing the combination for the push button lock to get into the room, the combination and locker number where the laundry is held and a website URL for which to pay for the service. She is charging $1.50 per pound of laundry, with a minimum drop off of 10 pounds.

Though she has just started this new part of the business, two customers have already discovered the benefits.

“So far it’s working for two people,” Mankin said. “I imagine it will be attractive to people who work and want to do laundry at any time.”

Two years ago, Mankin took over what had been called the Cozy Corner Laundromat and Cozy Corner Cafe from friends who were moving to Switzerland. Though she is a single mother, Mankin said she was looking to operate a business close to her North Amherst home and supplement her income, while also revitalizing a place at the heart of the village center using her experience as a self-described “creative problem-solver person.”

“I thought that if I could make a chunk of change, and build community, that this could be really cool,” Mankin said, who works professionally in strategic planning and development for local and regional nonprofits, and also has been a dramaturge in regional cinema.

She acquired the assets, which is mostly made up of the nine heavy-duty washing machines and eight dryers at the self-serve laundromat, along with the tables, chairs and kitchen equipment in the cafe, and secured the lease.

So far, the laundromat revenue covers the monthly rent she pays to property owner W.D. Cowls.

Working for herself, she has found to be both challenging and enjoyable.

“It’s been really fun having regular customers and getting to know the community,” Mankin said.

The idea of enhancing the laundry aspects came through brainstorming with Anita Eliason, a senior business adviser with the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network, an organization that provides one-on-one advice for scaling businesses.

“She said ‘my dad used to say if you have a parking lot, you can have a business,’” Mankin said.

Eliason said she is excited for Mankin, who, if successful, can take something that is destination oriented and expand its footprint by having drop-off points elsewhere in the community. 

With the idea of the drop-off service, Mankin went to Common Capital, the nonprofit organization based in Holyoke to execute the idea, getting $25,000 in assistance that has paid a graphic designer to create a new logo and a bookkeeper to get the books in order.

Michael Abbate, chief operating officer at Common Capital, said the organization’s mission is to help low- and moderate-income people through economic development.

Mankin accessed the fast track loan program, which Abbate said provides quick turnaround money for a business in operation for at least two years. A business assistance program with webinars and other online courses is also available, Abbate said.

So far, Mankin estimates she has spent between $7,000 and $8,000, which included getting the metal container, improving HVAC in the cafe and building out the cubbies.

Even if she only has five to six customers who take advantage of the bin, Mankin said this will be sufficient to generate the income to pay off the loan from Common Capital.

Though she has an employee who cleans and closes the self-serve laundromat, Mankin herself is the one folding the clothes

“This is not something I would normally think about doing, but I’ve enjoyed doing it,” Mankin said.

If it becomes busier, she could take on another employee.

“The difficult thing would be too much laundry. I wouldn’t be able to do the 30-hour turnaround,” Mankin said.

There is an irony that even though the service is designed for convenience and perhaps for those who don’t care for interaction, she remains interested in having a gathering spot. She is envisioning the restaurant space becoming Local 63 Cafe, which would be the only such location on the state route south of Millers Falls.

“I would like to be able to feed people. I’m good at feeding people.” Mankin said.

Mankin said she is exploring all options, but acknowledges that she has been slow to reopen the cafe because a suitable relationship hasn’t been found, and running it herself isn’t possible with a son in kindergarten. Expanding the kitchen preparation area so the cafe can offer real menu items along with coffee is essential.

“I’m looking forward to when there is a lot of lifeblood moving through this space, and I hope that will be soon,” Mankin said.

To draw attention to her shop, Mankin will be hosting a children’s clothing swap next month, one of the events during the Winterfest Week. That is scheduled for Feb. 7 from noon to 3 p.m.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

Editor’s Note: This story was changed on Jan. 15, 2018, to clarify that the turnaround time for service is a goal of 30 hours and to remove the asset value, which did not reflect the current value at the time of Mankin’s purchase of the business.

 


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