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Making It | Grace Sull of Avenue A Laundry King - The Local East Village Blog - NYTimes.com


Making It | Grace Sull of Avenue A Laundry King


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For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Avenue A Laundry King.

P1030381Shira Levine

When Grace Sull, or, Eun Sook Han as she’s known to her Korean friends, had the first of her two daughters, she and her husband, a computer programmer, realized one income wasn’t enough. So she quit her job as a secretary at a travel agency and opened Avenue A Laundry King at 97 Avenue A. Twenty-one years later, she still loves what she does.

“It’s a very good business making people’s clothes clean, because we also clean their mind,” she told The Local. “I have no special skills, but I like doing laundry. It calms me; I like keeping things clean and organized for people. I like all these young people who come in, especially all the good-looking beautiful people, the handsome men and the beautiful models.” We asked the laundry queen to come clean about how she’s managed to make it all these years.

Q.

So business is always good when you own a laundromat?

A.

This is a business that is all the time OK. It’s consistent. It doesn’t matter, 9/11 – it doesn’t matter if it’s rainy, it doesn’t matter if it’s cold weather. OK, rain matters a little bit, but not much. We don’t have pick-up and delivery so when it’s cold and rainy it’s not as good, but it is still good.

Q.

Why don’t you have pick-up and delivery service?

A.

I want to keep my business simple. I don’t want the risk of my employees going to people’s places. We are just four people. I play music, FM 103.5 here because we need the beats in here to make it nice and keep things simple and happy. I make my business as simple as possible and make it as easy as possible so everyone is happy.

Q.

Have couples fallen in love here?

A.

One time two customers I know separately met for the first time in here and they are still together. I see people become friends; and I see people discover their neighbors.

Q.

A lot of people hate doing laundry, so it’s convenient for the neighborhood that you actually like it.

A.

Making people really happy with clean clothes makes me really happy.  I have a lot of awesome customers. I have a lot of humor now and I have learned a lot about people from my customers. I know hedge fund managers. I know lawyers. I know doctors. I know models. I understand everyone, their jobs, their way of thinking and their culture. I learned about America from being here. When I was just home with my daughters, I didn’t understand America.

Q.

It looks like you also share some Korean culture here too.

A.

I try to introduce American people to my culture. I tell my customers about the Korean Spirit and Culture Promotion Project. We have big buffets of Korean food and I invite them. I show some Korean culture and history on my walls. I give people information and books. I make Korean food recommendations.

Q.

How has your rent changed over the last 21 years?

A.

My rent has more than doubled and almost tripled since I started 21 years ago. I don’t remember exactly but I think it was about $3,500 and now it’s less than $10,000 a month. And then there is all the tax. It’s a lot of money.

Q.

About how many loads are you doing a day, on average?

A.

A good day for me is about 100 people. Sundays I have a lot of people. My record is 120. I am very proud of that.

Q.

What kinds of problems do you have in this business?

A.

We have a problem with homeless people. They want to stay here. If they have laundry, we let them stay here. It was a bigger problem before and now it’s not as much. I have a lot of detective friends in the police station over here that help me.

Q.

After 21 years are you thinking about retiring soon, and perhaps passing the business on to your daughters? What is next for you?

A.

I want to retire. I won’t give it to my daughters; they don’t want to do it. One works in media and the other one is studying accounting. I would like to sell it.

Q.

Why did you make the name of your business so simple and literal?

A.

I like the A because I want to be an A! I don’t want to be a B service. I try to be an A in all my life!


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 26, 2012

An earlier version of this post misidentified the daughter of Ms. Sull who works in media as a media buyer.