A new laundromat is opening on East Tremont Avenue, smack in the middle of two other laundromats. It’s an aggressive business move, and many locals aren’t pleased. There will be three now, all on one short stretch, and some business owners fear that they can’t all survive.
Gene DiNapoli is a local entertainer and an Elvis impersonator who took over Splish Splash laundromat at 3511 E. Tremont Avenue, right on the corner of Tremont and Barkley avenues, one year ago. DiNapoli has concerns about the new place, which is moving in diagonally across the street in what was formerly a Washington Mutual Bank. Sitting between All Range Cellular and metroPCS, the space is very large — it looks almost three times bigger than Splish Splash. “I’ve been in Throggs Neck 30 years, and getting involved in a local business seemed like a great thing for my life,” said DiNapoli. “Now these other guys are coming in trying to hurt us, and I don’t think people are going to like it.”
The new business, which is at 3492 E. Tremont Avenue, doesn’t yet have a name or a sign outside. A man named Michael, who at first claimed not to be part of management, but then said he was, would only share that the laundromat is set to open in “a couple months” and that it will indeed be a 24-hour location. The people running the business have been seen unloading washers and dryers from a truck, causing chatter amongst the other business owners. An owner of a shop that is on the same block said that the machines looked old. “My view is if you want to provide a new service, you get brand new machines,” he added.
Indeed, based on a brief visit inside the space, which is still a work in progress, many machines were dirty and appeared to be used. However, at the back of the room there were a number of new, clean machines as well.
“You have to always go into a rent or lease knowing that bad things can happen,” said DiNapoli. “And this place moving in definitely is the worst thing that could happen.” However, he is also optimistic. “We have 15 new machines coming in, which will expand us to 45 altogether. So he’s not going to have an easy time getting me out. I’m a fighter.” Barbara, the manager of Splish Splash, called the new laundromat’s tactics “very cutthroat” but concluded: “We should be okay. We have some loyal customers that will stick with us no matter what.”
The second established laundromat nearby is Wash World, located next to Carvel ice cream. Like the staff of Splish Splash, workers at Wash World have their fears. “Of course we don’t like it very much,” said Carol, an employee. “I can’t even understand how they’re allowed to do it. You got two family laundromats and they set up right in the middle?”
Others on the storefront stretch are less prepared to judge the new business harshly. “I feel sorry for Gene, because he just sunk money into Splish Splash,” said a business owner and friend of DiNapoli who wished to remain anonymous. “But I’d rather have someone there than a vacant store. We already have too many empty spots on Tremont. So this is like a catch-22 because I don’t want it to hurt Gene’s business, but I’m happy to have a new place in that big vacancy.” This businessperson did mention one concern with the new laundromat—being open 24 hours — neighboring stores fear for the safety of their windows.
“Because it’s 24 hours, will it become a hangout? Will people loiter? Will it create a parking problem?” These are questions this particular businessowner has posed. Then again, the 45th Precinct sits directly behind the new laundromat.
Jim Orifice is the owner of the property at 3492, so he’ll serve as the new laundromat’s landlord. Orifice pointed to the difficult economy right now as a reason to welcome any new business over an empty space. “The community seems to have concerns with this place,” he admitted, “but this tenant wants to be part of the community and run a good, clean business. I believe the community will be pleasantly surprised with the quality of the business.” Orifice also noted that due to the demographics of the area, in his view it could support three laundromats. “I don’t think there’s anything to worry about,” he concluded.
Councilman James Vacca, as it happens, had tried to block the business from moving in, on behalf of the other two laundromats. “I do not see the need for another laundromat there,” he said. “I could be wrong, but I don’t see people bringing that place a lot of business.” Vacca fears for DiNapoli as well as the management of Wash World.
A friend of DiNapoli’s, in discussing this conflict, recalled a similar issue happening decades ago in the same area. On Tremont Avenue and Lafayette Avenue, a new, neighborhood pharmacy, Throggs Neck Pharmacy, opened directly across from a large drugstore, Genovese. In that scenario, both businesses thrived.
There was room for two pharmacies. The question is, will there also be room for three laundromats?