Patrons of the Wash Quarters Laundromat, which has operated on Valencia Street for decades, will have to find another laundry, because the owner can’t sustain a pending 140-percent rent hike. Laundry is simply not that profitable.
“Who can reach in their pocket and say here’s an extra $7,000?” said Paul Fiol, the owner of Wash Quarters and a Mission District native. Fiol can’t, and he will close the laundromat July 17.
Fiol was informed on June 1 that, starting in August, his rent would increase to $11,500 a month — from $4,800 a month. That’s the biggest increase in the 16 years Fiol has been there. When he opened, he paid $2,300 a month.
Yet in many ways, Fiol, who by day works as a clerk at the San Francisco Superior Courthouse, foresaw this day.
His lease was set to expire in 2020 — and, in September 2016, the building’s owners, Nasser Apartments, were drafting plans to vastly reconfigure the building. The plan, at the time, was to add eight units to the existing three units and consolidate the two ground-floor commercial spaces. That idea was later scrapped.
But before the plan was abandoned, the Nasser family shuttered the other ground-floor establishment, the vegan restaurant Herbivore, in August 2016. Fiol was forced to start drafting new plans of his own, exploring how he could keep his laundromat open on the corridor.
Fiol said one of his chances came when an owner of a building across from the laundromat considered selling his building to the city, allowing some of the longtime residential tenants to remain, and giving Fiol an opportunity to buy the ground-floor space with a loan from the city.
Yet, according to Fiol, the owner of the building was asking for as much as $18 million, far too much for the city, and the plan dissolved.
Renting another space began to look less viable. He figured it would cost half a million dollars to relocate — and he inevitably would face more rent increases, he said.
“It’s such a gamble on my end,” said Fiol.
Fiol said Wash Quarters’ demise is only part of a larger trend. “It’s hard for small businesses,” he said. “It’s bad for the neighbors.”
Indeed, he said that many of his clients are older folks who have been putting quarters in the machines for decades. Doing laundry, he added, is a necessity of ordinary life — and laundromats are a necessity for people who don’t have their own machines.
“People have to do their laundry,” he said. “As long as you’re living, you’re going to go back and do your laundry. You can’t get away from it.”
Fiol, 52, grew up here in the Mission, on 24th and Alabama. He said he would help his mother clean up a laundromat located on Florida Street, and dreamed of owning his own business.
So, 16 years ago, he took out a loan against a house he owned in the Excelsior and bought Wash Quarters. He was not able to pay the mortgage, and eventually lost the house. Now, he is losing his laundromat as well.
“It’s been a learning experience,” he said of the 16-year endeavor. “And I’ll never do it again.”