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Chicago Fun Times: the laundromat of Joz Servick's dreams



Jocelyn "Joz" Servick never minded going to the laundromat, she just thought it should be more fun. So in September she unveiled her creation, three years in the making, Joz's Launder-Bar & Cafe. Located at 3435 N. Southport (929-WASH), it is exactly what the name implies and more: it's a laundromat, bar, restaurant, video arcade, and laundry museum.

"I have always found laundry to be one of the worst chores," Joz explained. "I've never owned a washer and dryer in my life. I've always gone to a laundromat and I've always put it off until I have nothing left and I do 10 to 12 loads of clothes at a time. . . . I load up my car and it becomes a major production; but I never minded going to a laundromat because you can do it all at once. It's not an all-day, running-up-and-down-the-stairs, one-load-at-a-time kind of a thing. In an hour and a half you can do 12 loads, which is the great advantage. That's really why I never wanted to own my own machine."

Having used laundromats, Joz knew just what she wanted in one when she decided to open her own.

"I wanted to do a laundromat where people would not have to sit and watch their clothes go round and round in the damned tumbler," she said. "Which people do. You see them sitting in their chairs and they sit there and watch their wash go round, because there's nothing else to do. There's nothing else to look at. People get paranoid in laundromats. They don't want to look at each other."

Servick, a tall, thin woman with billowing, shoulder-length hair and an easy laugh, sold furniture wholesale for 17 years before deciding to go into business for herself. Her route included Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and she spent a lot of time on the road, especially in rural areas. Once she decided to open a laundromat, she made traveling more interesting by stopping at antique shops and scouting for treasures to decorate it.

Now the laundromat's walls are lined with laundry paraphernalia and memorabilia, including ads for products like Super Suds, White Wizard, and Crazy Water Crystals. Sitting near the front door is one of the first electric washing machines, a gleaming copper Easy model that still works. This came from a flea market. A manually powered Geyser washer especially for baby clothes was donated by a friend. Stove-heated irons, a wooden Bicycle brand clothes wringer, and a 30-year-old Oxydol box line the ledge above the latest in laundry equipment.

A pink neon "Loads of Fun" sign hangs on another wall above the dryers, seemingly thumbing its 20th-century nose at these relics from the past. The motto also adorns the T-shirts worn by the laundromat and restaurant staff.

At first, a restaurant wasn't in the plans. Joz was planning a laundromat with a bar for a property on Halsted Street. When that deal fell through, she found the building on Southport and it happened to have a kitchen. Even then, Joz thought she would be serving only a little food.

"I hadn't even thought about breakfast. I thought about opening the laundromat at eight o'clock like most laundromats open. And all of a sudden our menu grew and grew and grew and all our hours extended and it all blew up out of proportion."

Now she employs a staff of 30, give or take a barmaid or two, and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, from 7 AM to 1 AM, not counting the hours for start-up and shutdown.

Her cook worked previously at Ann Sather's and the Green Door and puts extra care and attention into even ordinary menu items. Each night there are specials and homemade desserts. Joz takes great pleasure in relating how a group of senior citizens "had a ball" one of her first nights in business.

"This one lady grabbed my arm and said, 'Honey, this is the best time we've had in years. We love your place'. . . . I didn't want to target-mark my customer into this little niche, you know, like, 'I'm going after the 24-to-40 group and they have to have this income.' I don't believe in that."

But the price of success, especially in an operation of this size, is hard work. Joz spends, her days and nights collecting the quarters, folding the clothes, paying the deliverymen, counting the carrots, answering the phone. She also puts in a fair of time maintaining her laundry equipment. Originally from Pittsburgh, Servick took her bachelor's in mechanical engineering and industrial design from the University of Pennsylvania. "I've always been real mechanically inclined. As a kid I took everything in the house apart and put it back together. . . . I'm real patient, so I can figure out anything if I study it long enough."

Except for her heavy-duty machines, Joz bought Maytag washers and dryers because the innards are the most accessible. "They're dependable. A real basic motor. Everything's easy to get to to fix it." Even though she's never repaired washers or dryers before, she's confident she'll learn how. "It can't be that hard. A motor's a motor."

In the nine months spent getting the place ready to open, Joz did a lot of the construction herself and much of the painting, both inside and out. Although she did have an architect, the basic interior design was all her own.

Instead of installing juke boxes, she spent six months taping CDs; the music is controlled from behind the bar. Two TVs make viewing accessible from just about anywhere, and a small room off the restaurant houses five video games. Hanging near the bar is a magazine rack where all the subscriptions Joz doesn't have time for end up. "Some people who come alone don't particularly want to come and sit at the bar and watch TV or sit and strike up a conversation with somebody. We'll give them something to read and make them feel comfortable." There's also free popcorn. Joz's washers are 75 cents per cycle, and dryers cost a quarter.

High on Joz's list of priorities is sanitation. "I've always hated laundromats because they're filthy dirty. They never have bathrooms and I'm one of those people who has to go to the bathroom at least once an hour. So if I'm in the laundromat for an hour and a half, I used to have to go home to go to the bathroom. And I've talked to more women who are happy that I've got a clean bathroom."

Outside the bathroom is one of her antique treasures, an old gas station sign proclaiming "Home clean rest rooms."

As part of her concern for cleanliness, Joz does not allow smoking in the laundromat section. This policy has engendered more than a few complaints. Joz, however, a heavy smoker herself, is firm.

"It drives me crazy because when my clothes are wet and somebody is smoking next to you it just gets sucked into your clothes and they stink before you even get them home. And that really bothers me. It's not like I'm throwing them out on the street. You can walk right down the hall here [and smoke]. I'm not going to make people buy a drink or anything."

But they will know when their clothes are done. Hanging near the bar is a board with numbers corresponding to each of the 60 washers. When the washer is in use, the number lights up. When your cycle is done, the light goes out.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul L. Merideth.

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