Written by Laurance Cohen of American Co-op magazine
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. — If you thought the owner of a local coin-op named We’ve Got Your Sock Laundromat would just tack up an assortment of mismatched knits and call it a day, then you’ve never met Poughkeepsie’s own Suzy Kee. Her one-of-a-kind clothesline timeline showcasing 140 years of Americana will really knock your socks off.
From a pre-Civil War hand-sown silk gown to a ’70s micro-mini ensemble affectionately referred to as “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”, Kee pays tribute to the changing face of fashion with an impressive lineup of vintage garments pinned to a dual-cord clothesline draped above the mirror finish of stainless steel classic Gen 4 and Gen 5 Wascomats.
“I thought it would be really neat to hang up clothing, but not just anyone’s, because that’s kind of banal. So, the creativity came out if I hung out period clothing,” Kee explains. “I was looking for specific styles that screamed out a certain period.”
In addition to a clothesline paying homage to the fabric of life in bygone days, the venue exhibits the labor-intensive laundering apparatus of yesteryear. A copper hand-held agitator, accompanied by a laundry fork, bar soap saver, and wool sock stretcher, adorn a perimeter wall just to the left of a trio of antique hand irons. On display below the tools is a circa 1946 Maytag wringer washer, still in working condition.
And while her coin-op drips with nostalgia, it reflects an oft-forgotten approach to the laundry business model — a return to a time when good, old-fashioned customer service was a hallmark of the trade.
Though there are no object labels identifying the nearly 100 artifacts, Kee will happily take you back in time with a narrated tour when she isn’t busy meticulously folding a customer order or tending to her other duties as official greeter or unofficial matchmaker.
That’s right: Besides pairing a “sole mate” to an errant sock, she is quite adept at finding soul mates for singles in the laundry’s aisle, with two successful hookups to date — on top of a love connection with her own beau.
You’ll likely find the industrious Kee toiling away at a table with a blue clothes-folding board at her fingertips just steps from the front door. The strategic position permits her to lend a hand at the storefront and personally welcome visitors, nearly all of whom are greeted on a first-name basis.
The laundry-cum-museum curator’s engaging personality softens the hard lines and impersonal nature of the traditional self-service coin-op format.
“I want customers to feel that they’re welcome to visit and hang out here, or chat to get to know people,” Kee emphasizes. “It’s not like a typical laundry where people mind their own business and don’t make eye contact.”
On this particular winter day, Susan Langford and Tina Wrisley-Day had stopped in to leave their wash and enjoy a relaxing beverage on the casual wicker furniture at the front of the house.
The pair of retired nurses, who travel 15 and 10 miles, respectively, to reach the store, use the opportunity to catch up on the latest local happenings and gaze longingly at fashion’s elegant past. Langford adores the 1920s Stone Marten fur wrap near the clothesline’s midpoint while her friend gives a nod to the graceful pink satin dress to its immediate right.
We’ve Got Your Sock’s garment-related potpourri is a springboard for interaction among patrons. The 70-year-old, versatile wringer washer — a gift last year from Kee’s boyfriend — stirs up talk and emotion.
“It brings back memories of their mom or grandmother who had a similar washer. It makes them smile,” she says.
And although her row of 22 immaculately maintained front loaders spins profits week in and week out, none of them came fitted with attachments to churn butter, grind meat, and make sausage like the ol’ vintage model.
With the ice broken, the outgoing owner relishes bringing others into the conversation.
“I’ll introduce customers by first name or bring out some commonality so people start chatting. I want this place to have a friendly feel.”
Counter services are frequently transacted outside the office cubicle where drop-off is handed off and welcomed with open arms, ensuring special laundering and finishing requests are duly noted.
Self-service customers are equally attended to when they enter the premises, as their cycles progress, and finally at departure. The watchful operator offers up stain removal tips to the uninitiated and checks in periodically to inquire if the machines are meeting patron expectations.
We’ve Got Your Sock’s buy-10-get-1-free wash loyalty card bears the individual’s name to help engrave it in Kee’s memory and is initialed — rather than punched — by the operator to tally another load and one more meet-and-greet.
Kee, who attends the coin-op every day except two holidays when the laundry is closed, has built trade by caring for the loads and the people crossing her threshold.
“I have customers who feel they can confide in me or let me know that I’ve made some type of difference in their lives. That’s the most gratifying feeling in the world, and what keeps me going.”
The store owner’s close involvement with her community was evident during my visit, as a special education high school student, participating in a work-study program coordinated by locally based Abilities First, arrived for his twice-weekly, two-hour cleaning exercise.
Kee opened her laundry to the project — which integrates special needs high schoolers into local business settings to teach them life skills and time management — shortly after the store renovation.