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Squamish's only coin laundry, The Spot, faces closure

Support expressed for The Spot, a vital service for many Squamish residents; District says it can’t intervene.

It is Thursday morning at The Spot laundry in downtown Squamish. A young couple enters to ask how the pay shower works. 

Owner Ashleigh Leier breaks a $20 for them and fills them in on how to operate the coin shower at the back of the laundromat. 

The downtown location, which is across from The Squamish Chief on Second Avenue, is almost always busy. 

Soon, however, The Spot will close, leaving Squamish without a public coin laundry.

Leier's landlords Rural Stores have notified her that she must be out by Nov. 30. 

Leier said she was gobsmacked to get the news earlier this summer. She opened the business four years ago and this was her first experience renewing her lease.

Jeff Wilson, president of Vancouver-based Rural Stores, told The Squamish Chief the company would not comment on this specific situation "as all commercial leases are confidential.”

"However, these circumstances occur like when a tenant doesn’t renew their option,” Wilson said.

Leier acknowledges that she had an option to renew in April, but though she didn't sign officially then, she thought continuing the tenancy was a given. 

"I spoke to them in length about plans for the coming year. And my insurance was for a year. It was implicit I was staying," she said. 

From what she had read in her lease documents, she thought she had three months to sign. She had put the date in her phone, but days before that date, the landlords gave her the notice to leave.  

She also says other tenants got reminders to sign their leases. 

A spokesperson for the neighbouring Baltech Electronics confirmed to The Squamish Chief that they were "invited directly by the landlords to renew [the] lease. They just called a few months before the end of my lease and offered to write a new contract," the spokesperson said.

"I can also confidently say that I would have forgotten to renew had they not reminded me." 

Leier was not given any reminders, she said, leaving her with the impression that the landlords just don’t want her type of business in the building.

She said she wanted and continues to want to work out solutions with her landlords. The downtown location works for her clients and she would be open to various options, but her efforts to come to some solution where she doesn’t have to leave have gone nowhere, she said.

The closure will also have an impact on Leier personally. 

She said it would be incredibly financially challenging — if there were a suitable spot available — to start up somewhere else in Squamish, she said.

"I've only been open here for four years; I've invested my entire life savings. And I wouldn't have ever done this, if this was the outcome,” she said.

‘Bigger than just laundry’

The long-time local said the bigger picture is that Squamish is losing its community hubs, like Zephyr which closes on Monday, Sept. 25, and now the coin laundry which is a community gathering place as well.

"It's so much bigger than just laundry,” she said. 

"All the people that had a community, owned and operated by locals that have been here for years … and we're getting kicked out. For what?" 

Customer Jamee Teske sent a letter to the District in support of The Spot and shared it with The Squamish Chief.

"I am saddened on a personal level, as The Spot has become such an integral part of my life and sense of belonging in Squamish,” Teske wrote.

Teske, a nurse who moved to Squamish two years ago, rents a suite that does not have a washer and dryer. 

"[I] have been going to The Spot once a week for the last two years. Squamish has been a hard place to find a sense of community as so many acquaintances have left due to the cost of living/lack of affordable housing. Going to The Spot actually makes me feel like I have community."

Several other customers told The Squamish Chief similar things. 

Entrepreneur Nicola Fairweather, a supporter of Leier, says she has sat and watched what goes on at The Spot and believes the laundromat should be considered an essential service. 

"There's people who have mental illness, there are homeless people, there are lonely people, the elderly," she said. "You have the environmental impact, where people don't have to send off their duvet for dry cleaning, which is terrible for the environment, because they can bring them here. There's nowhere else that they can possibly bring them all. You have the hotels and the restaurants. And this has a knock-on effect to the whole community."

Fairweather said the municipality should intervene in some way as the laundromat is an essential service. 

She has launched a petition, Save The Spot Laundrette: Our only coin-operated laundrette in Squamish, urging action from the Squamish Council, District of Squamish, and Rural Stores.

District response

A spokesperson for the District of Squamish said municipalities cannot assist an individual business, as governed by the Community Charter. 

However, "the District’s Economic Development department is focused on supporting businesses through programs which can help offset other associated business costs, such as hiring and training grants, grant writing services and tax credits," said District spokesperson Rachel Boguski.

"In terms of support for the most vulnerable in our community, Under One Roof provides laundry facilities as part of its suite of services," she added.

Boguski said the muni empathizes with entrepreneurs that the cost of doing business, including labour and overhead costs, has increased over the past few years particularly for those who lease space for their operations. 

"Rising lease rates is one of the challenges currently being faced by local business owners," she said. 

"Much of this is controlled by market forces of supply and demand, and Squamish has become a highly desirable location for business and living/lifestyle. Within the District’s municipal tools available to us, we have been focused on work that aims to increase the availability of employment lands and space."

The District is working to increase the overall supply of employment land or space to help limit lease rate escalation, Boguski added. 

A laundromat falls under Personal Service Establishment use. 

This use is permitted broadly across the community in various commercial zones downtown and in Garibaldi Village. 

"As rezonings come forward and neighbourhood plans are developed, new employment space is a key component of the District’s objectives. For example, 25 acres of new employment lands have been designated in the new Loggers East Neighbourhood Plan. "

Could The Spot customers go to Under One Roof?

Lori Pyne, executive director of Squamish Helping Hands, said it would not be possible for Under One Roof's facilities to accommodate The Spot's customers. 

"We absolutely do not have capacity to absorb this clientele," Pyne said in an email to The Chief.

"We prioritize our Laundry Room for the residents and participants that use our services and access our programming. We have limited hours that revolve around Under One Roof’s programming and requires you to be over the age of 18. It is paramount that we have the machines available to service our emergency shelter and meet our daily responsibilities as a community service provider."

Muni opportunity?

Urban planner Andy Yan, director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, told The Squamish Chief the question becomes when does a municipality step in to help? 

Yan said the District is right; there isn't too much municipalities can legally do to help. 

But he suggested if a commercial laundromat can’t be sustained, maybe it is an opportunity for the District to start its own to fill the community need.

He noted that in addition to the various folks, like vanlifers, vulnerable and unhoused people,  30% of Squamish residents rent, so laundry is potentially an issue for many.

“There's going to be a lot of folks, especially in older facilities or in certain housing situations, who don't have access to laundry. And that's kind of important in terms of all your day-to-day life,” he said. 

And laundromats can be profitable, he said. In 2016, 72.8% of such businesses were classified as profitable by the federal government’s Canadian Industry Statistics (CIS) analysis (53.2% in 2021, during the pandemic).

“The middle of the 19th century had these kinds of public sanitary facilities — whether it is showers or bathrooms or laundromats, in this case. Maybe this is where a municipality like Squamish, can look at those types of community services.”

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