As the number of large buildings in Oak Park continues to rise, smaller businesses in the village can be overshadowed by the new buildings. Those businesses also have to continue to generate enough revenue to pay high property taxes and utility bills, while fighting obsolescence in a changing business landscape.
One such business quietly closed last summer. After nearly 40 years, owner Roy Burton sold Village Laundromat, 14 Chicago Ave.
“The thing about doing business in Oak Park is that the taxes were crippling,” said Burton. “You know, $40,000 a year and the water bill was $60,000. You start out with a $100,000 deficit and you’ve got salaries, upkeep and you’re supposed to put new equipment in, and I was not able to put any new equipment in, so I ended up closing.”
The construction of the high-rise apartment buildings also hurt Village Laundromat; the Albion, Emerson, Eleven33 and Vantage have washers and dryers in every apartment unit.
“Everyone thinks you’re rich because you own a property like that and there’s a lot of people running around washing clothes,” Burton said. “But there’s competition in Oak Park and there’s a lot of competition from both the condominiums and the rentals.”
According to Burton, the number of Oak Park residents doing laundry at Village Laundromat dwindled, especially in recent years.
“Almost no business from people in Oak Park,” he said. “Zero.”
But not from lack of trying.
“I went to a 30 unit building one time that was within a block of my laundromat and I went through and I got the names off all the mailboxes. I wrote individual letters to each person who lived in that building, offering them free wash,” said Burton. “I got nobody. Zero.”
To cut overhead costs, Burton carried out all the laundromat’s maintenance and upkeep.
“I did all my own repairs, bought the parts and installed them. I did all my plumbing and electric work,” he said. “Since 2012, I had 10 days off. Total.”
Now happily retired, Burton’s doing the things he didn’t have time to do while the laundromat was in operation, such as visiting the Art Institute’s Andy Warhol exhibit, which he called “disappointingly small.”
Burton doesn’t regret closing Village Laundromat, which turned profits for a while.
“It made some money in the beginning,” he said. “But everything gets old, including me.”