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Smiley's, the world's largest laundromat (and Visit Denver's biggest embarrassment) is gone

In the late '80s, after a Broncos Super Bowl loss, a CBS report said Denver had never been number one in anything besides air pollution. But that wasn't true: At the time, Denver had Smiley's, the world's largest laundromat. And this modern marvel's existence had been shared a few years earlier, when the Today show came to town to explain why Denver had just been named one of the country's most liveable cities, using Westword writers as guides. Visit Denver's Rich Grant has never forgiven me for that.

The Today crew had been here for a full day filming various sights around Denver, and the convention bureau thought the segment could be a big break for the city, then deep in the economic doldrums.

And the first shot? Someone stumbling out of Smiley's, at 1080 East Colfax Avenue, "which I had not even known existed until that moment," Grant recalls. "I don't even remember the rest of your tour. I went into such a catatonic state that the rest was just a bad dream."

But now Grant can rest easy: Smiley's Laundromat is no more.

The property had been purchased by longtime developer Bill Mosher and Capitol Hill specialists Triton Properties back in 2006; they planned to spend up to $20 million to redevelop it into a retail and housing complex. But the falling economy put the kibosh on that project, and last year the building was sold to Slipstream Properties.

Richard Son, the washer and dryer repairman who'd kept all 340 machines running at Smiley's for two decades, had taken over management of the laundromat. But he quickly fell behind on rent payment to the new owners. Son "is like the nicest guy you'll ever meet," Slipstream's Anthony Loeffler tells Westword ."We have nothing but great things to say about him and all of our interactions with him. He ran it for about a year -- the laundry lease was only for about a year. So we looked at the retail space and decided to end the lease with Richard and the laundromat. He took all the machines and sold them."

Slipstream is now in the process of renovating the entire structure, giving it a floor-to-ceiling cleaning. When it reopens later this year, there will still be retail storefronts for new businesses on the first floor as well as residential spaces on the two upper floors -- but no laundromat.

"It's a serious blow to old-school Denver," Grant says now, but he's not ready to forgive and forget that Westword celebrated Smiley's during Denver's big moment in the spotlight. "I just marked a third of a century on this job, and that was the single-worst moment."

History, hung out to dry.

From the Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Photo finish: Obscenity is in the eye of the beholder."


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