By Kevin Post
The Press of Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J.
Maybe everyone has a bit of entrepreneur in them.
Laura Dapp started as a teacher and then sold real estate for a while, but “wanted to do something different.”
“I always wanted to do something independent, where I’m my own boss,” said Dapp, of Vineland. “I said to my husband, it will be either a laundry or a car wash.”
In 2002 she bought a former Wawa building, which she remade into the Delsea Laundromat on Delsea Drive in Vineland.
Converting the 3,300-square-foot space configured for a food store into a coin-operated laundry was a lot of work, but the result convinced her running a small business was what she wanted.
“I found it was a good business and I enjoyed the customers,” Dapp said.
So in 2007, she bought the Buena Laundry, which had been around since 1960 and looked it.
“The equipment was pretty beat up. The owner had moved out of the area. So I totally gutted it, brought in new equipment, hung curtains, added a restroom and two flat-screen TVs,” she said.
Two coin-operated laundries turned out to be one more than she needed or wanted, so a couple of years later she sold the Delsea Laundromat.
But at 2,200 square feet, the Buena Laundry in the Landisville section wasn’t big enough to make it as nice and functional as she wanted.
The solution: Dapp knocked out a wall and added 800 square feet, reopening last month.
“We took the footprint as far as we could go without going into the parking area,” she said, and also took taking the opportunity to replace the flat roof with a more attractive and functional pitched roof.
In the new space, she doubled the number of large-capacity dryers to 40 and added a folding area. Since clothes take longer to dry than wash, the laundry’s 28 large-capacity washers now have the dryers to match them.
In her quest to make the laundry the nicest and cleanest around, she also decorated the interior and hung pictures.
“I’ve gotten many compliments on it. We have families who have been coming here for three generations,” she said.
People need to clean clothes regardless of the state of the economy, so retail laundry has been stable in the prolonged downturn.
The number of coin-operated laundries and drycleaners in New Jersey increased from 471 in 2007 to 487 in 2012, while adding 97 employees for a total of 1,613, federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows.
In Atlantic County alone, the number of laundry establishments dropped from 11 in 2007 to just eight in 2012, but they added one employee for 25 total in 2012. Total wages, however, declined from $339,000 to $298,000.
Dapp said her son helps out at the laundry, but he’s heading toward the education field where she started.
“He has a history teaching degree and he’s finishing up his master’s,” she said. “He wants to get his doctorate and be a school psychologist.”