I’ve long had a thing for laundromats. The smell of detergent, the white noise of the machines, the carts that don’t quite go in a straight line, the large clothes folding tables, the constant din of Court TV, and especially the odd mixture of cleanliness and squalor. A good laundromat combines public and private in very unusual ways. You walk in with things seldom seen, underwear and bedsheets and towels, and after a quick scan of the rows and rows of identical machines, you stake your claim. Confidently, you stride: “These three washing machines are mine.” “I’m going to take this chair, this cart, this folding table.” All of a sudden, you have a little home away from home. You are alone, yet surrounded by other people. Everyone is hard at work, all glancing, all avoiding eye contact.
[The corner harbors a bus stop, and a couple of two-story mixed-use buildings.]
[The sidewalk is well-lined with trees, benches, tables, bikes, newspaper boxes, pop machines, bus stops, lampposts, sandwich signs, windows, and parked cars.]
You throw your laundry into the machine. Then what? What do you do while you wait? Well, I’ve been to a lot of Laundromats in the Twin cities, and my all-time favorite Minneapolis machines are on this week’s Sidewalk of the Week: Grand Avenue South and 36th Street.
This Laundromat is perfectly embedded into its sidewalk, part of a little corner in the middle of the Kingfield/Calhoun neighborhood. South Minneapolis is full of these little mixed-use commercial spots, but this has to be one of the smallest, most intimate commercial corners in the city. It’s nothing but a few buildings: a laundromat, a new-age book and herb store, a little house and storefront place that sells some sort of audio services, and a nice coffee shop and bakery with outdoor seating. That’s it, but it does wonders to increase the convenience and character of the surrounding homes. I’ve had such wonderful afternoons hanging out on this corner after my laundry has been put into the machine.
You can go down to the coffee shop, admire the awesome mural, eat the good food, and hang out on the sidewalk. You can browse the strange bookstore, where I usually find a good paperback for $1, and where I once entered to find the cashier sitting cross-legged on top of the display counter. You can watch people walking by. I remember once I was hanging out on the little bench in the window of the laundromat next to the open corner door, and ended up listening for 15 minutes to someone practice a saxophone from one of the windows of the nearby homes. The intimacy of this sidewalk has everything to do with the small size of the node and the low levels of car traffic. Almost effortlessly, you can hang out on these streets, stroll a few blocks to Lyndale or Nicollet, and not get bored.
If only every neighborhood had so simple a commercial node, just a few buildings every quarter mile or so, to give people somewhere to walk to and from. But, mixed-use property like the little clump at 36th and Grand is illegal in almost all suburban areas. In order to get a cup of coffee, you have to drive quite a ways to the giant commercial complex along the highway. During the bygone era of laundromats, you probably walked or pushed a cart from your house. The older parts of the Twin Cities are dotted with littlelaundromat corners like this one. My favorites have large windows opening onto the sidewalks, and come with corner stores or coffee shops, but they’re all over the place.
[The laundromat opens directly onto the sidewalk corner, inviting people in or out, perforating the businesses and wafting laundromat scents throughout the neighborhood.]
[There are lot of places you can walk from this corner, in the heart of South Minneapolis.]
There’s something wonderful, though, about this little corner on Grand Avenue, one of the only places I can think of that has an outdoor pop machine along the sidewalk. You can grab a can before you realize that your laundry is probably done by now, and you head back into the little room to fold the clothes by a window along the street, making shirts into little squares while daydreaming to the spinning humming dryers. Here’s to you, little Laundromat corner! May all your clothes come out clean.