F elicity Fries can fold a t-shirt perfectly in the blink of an eye. Somehow, she slips a finger along an edge, pulls down on a corner and presto!—it’s a smooth, flat rectangle. I watch her do it, attentive, hoping that perhaps I can replicate the method at home.
As co-owner of Spotless Laundry, Fries folds a lot of shirts and pants and the like these days. Business is good for Fries and her husband Dave Breton, who opened the business together six years ago. The entrepreneurial pair took a necessary task most of us tend to avoid, saw an opportunity, then figured out how to execute really well in pursuit of it.
Spotless’s pickup service, which brings the company’s emblazoned white van not just around New Haven but also from “Guilford all the way to Milford,” is down to an art. A pickup (of a minimum $15 order, at $1.05 per pound) is arranged by a simple phone call, text or email exchange. (You might type, “Hi, can you come by before 5 today?” into your phone as you gargle your morning mouthwash. Two minutes later, a reply: “Okay. See you between 4 and 4:30.”) Your street address is saved with your phone number and, if you want, your credit card is kept on file, so there’s no need to provide your information again and again. And you’ve got your own name-tagged laundry bag given to you upon the return of your first clean load as a Spotless customer, so mixups in transit aren’t an issue.
To recap: send a text some hours in advance, stuff the dirty stuff into your sturdy bag and hand it over when the doorbell rings. Then answer your door the next day to take it back—fresh, clean and folded flat and tight (or buttoned on a hanger, for dress shirts and the like). All of a sudden, that pesky, persistent laundry chore you’ve always had is just handled. The same full wash/dry/fold service is available by drop-off at Spotless’s two West Haven locations (818 First Ave. and 226 Captain Thomas Blvd., respectively), if that’s better for you, and you can do dry-cleaning via pickup or drop-off, too.
Those two West Haven locations are also available for self-serve laundry. Washers and dryers, middling to huge, spin as you walk through the door, a pleasant smell of detergent in the air.
Like those laundry machines, business is whirring, but that wasn’t always the case. “We thought we could just collect the quarters,” Breton says of their initial decision to purchase an existing laundromat six years ago, hoping to supplement what they were making at their day jobs. He was working two jobs already—at a company that installed GPS tracking devices in trucks, as well as bartending—and figured running the laundry business on the side would be straightforward and lucrative.
Not so. The couple soon found out that “things break all the time,” he says. Plus, there was stiff competition. “It’s not like 20 years ago when there was just one laundromat” in the area where they opened.
Lucky for today’s time-strapped New Haveners, the co-owners chose to invest and adapt. Those early uncertain moments have given way to the Spotless Laundry of today, which is where I find Fries folding and Breton with just a little time to spare between pickups. The Spotless team now consists of five additional employees, and the enterprise is expanding by other measures as well: Breton proudly tells me that they’ve just purchased a linen press, which means they’ll soon be renting out tablecloths and other linens for formal functions like weddings.
With so much going on, you might wonder how they keep track of it all (tiny baby socks and all). Just like with Fries’ shirt-folding skills, the key is a smart and consistent methodology. Spotless never loses anything, she tells me, because labels follow every load of laundry from bag to washer to dryer to bag again, ensuring customers get back what they sent out. Often, when an order contains pieces from several family members, Spotless employees do their best to separate the clothes, making an individual bundle for each person.
“We just want to make it easier for them,” Fries tells me. For its customers, Spotless unquestionably takes a load off.
818 First Ave, West Haven (map) | (203) 937-1509
226 Captain Thomas Blvd, West Haven (map) | (203) 479-3540
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.