Smiley's Laundromat survives the recession to dry another day

Coming clean: For more than three decades, Smiley's Laundromat has been helping clean up Capitol Hill, but the Colfax Avenue landmark — and the largest discount laundromat in the nation — almost faded away in 2006. That's when longtime developer Bill Mosher and Capitol Hill specialists Triton Properties bought the business at 1080 East Colfax, with plans to spend up to $20 million to redevelop the building into a retail and housing complex.

Instead, they got stuck in a recession that put many Denver development plans through the wringer. Earlier this year, Triton finally gave up and sold Smiley's to Richard Son, the washer and dryer repairman at Smiley's for two decades who was responsible for keeping all 340 machines running, according to his daughter, Synia Son. And over the years, he apparently saved a lot of quarters.

Son took over in September and has since cleaned the place, lowered prices (by a quarter on the washers) and added two minutes to each dryer cycle. "We wanted to reel in some more customers and keep the old ones," says Synia, who runs the dry-cleaning portion of the business. "A lot of customers have told us it has transformed in the last couple of months. It is neater and cleaner, and there aren't as many bums."

The biggest change, however, has been the hours: Once a 24-hour laundromat, Smiley's is now open only from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. "We changed for safety reasons — and because we were losing money by paying someone to stay here overnight, because there weren't that many people," Synia explains. "And a lot of drunks and bums would sleep in here, so that caused problems as well. A lot of customers understand why we changed. A few were upset, but not many."

Founded in 1979 by Art Cormier, Smiley's gained some notoriety when the Today Show featured the worn-around-the-edges laundromat during a spot on Denver's rating as one of the country's most livable cities — a lowbrow inclusion that took the starch out of some city boosters.

 
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