On a modest commercial strip in the Throggs Neck section of the Bronx, word spread fast that construction going on inside a former Washington Mutual branch was transforming the space into a huge 24-hour Laundromat.
In many parts of the city, residents and local merchants alike would have celebrated the replacement of yet another empty bank branch with just about anything—just as long as it wasn't illegal.
But up on East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx, many locals worked themselves into a lather over the news. Merchants noted that the new laundry at 2492 is not the area's second but its third, with the Splish-Splash across the avenue and Wash World just down the block.
“Had we known this was happening, we would've approached the landlord to see what we could do to get something else there,” says John Cerini, president of the Throggs Neck Merchants Association and owner of the Capital Shield Insurance Agency, which operates out of a storefront in the same strip.
It's not that he has anything against the wash-rinse-spin set or new faces in general.
“Trust me, I wish every merchant here success, and we want new businesses to come to Throggs Neck, too,” he says. “But our objective is to put stores here that would be unique to the neighborhood, that wouldn't be duplicates or redundant.”
Businesses want more input
In many ways, it's a common tale. All over the city, empty storefronts are seen as bad news for landlords and for nearby businesses because they bring down the image of a neighborhood. Still, most local business owners would like to have a role in shaping the mix in their commercial kingdom.
To that end, Mr. Cerini has started to gather the names and numbers of all the commercial landlords in Throggs Neck so that the next time there's a vacancy, the merchants association can try to work with the landlord to select the next tenant.
“From an economic perspective, we could use other stores [there],” says City Councilman James Vacca. “A large Laundromat will overwhelm small mom-and-pops, and that community does not need one.”
Mr. Cerini had been in talks two years ago with Modell's, Barnes & Noble and Payless about coming into the neighborhood when the local Blockbuster Video closed, but they said the space was too small.
“We'd love to have a shoe store here, or more clothing stores,” he says, lamenting that the landlord database project wasn't done last year. The next time a local store becomes vacant, he says, the association will be better prepared. “Sometimes good things do come out of controversy,” he says.
Maybe so, but for the time being, Gene DiNapoli is singing the blues in more ways than one. The 44-year-old Throggs Neck native is one of the top-ranked Elvis impersonators in the Northeast and—just to come totally clean—is the owner of Splish-Splash. He bought the 35-year-old Suds in the City Laundromat in July and renamed it.
Don't be cruel ...
Less than a year later, he is heartbroken over the looming arrival of the mega-competitor. True, he still performs his doo-wop and Elvis act on the wedding-and-casino circuit on weekends, but he's also thinking about his future.
“I figured at some time I'm going to stop being an entertainer, and I was hoping to run the Laundromat afterwards,” he says. In fact, he incorporated the name Splish-Splash 20 years ago with a view to running a Laundromat someday. He and his wife invested $100,000 in the place.
The pair work weekdays at their Laundromat, and will even deliver to the elderly, about 25% of their customers. Mr. DiNapoli takes pride in doing the pickups and drop-offs himself.
“Elvis delivers,” he jokes.