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Smiley’s Makes Denver No. 1 In Suds

February 11, 1988

DENVER (AP) _ A Super Bowl humiliation and the unkind words of a national TV correspondent may have stained Denver’s self-image, but it’s nothing Smiley and his world’s-largest Laundromat can’t get out.

Smiley’s stands as a knockdown to CBS correspondent Bob McNamara’s suggestion that Denver is ″a town that’s never been No. 1 in anything but carbon monoxide levels.″

McNamara’s comments drew anger from Denver residents after being broadcast nationally during a reaction story the day after the Broncos lost the National Football League Championship to the Washington Redskins, 42-10.

Smiley’s three beige buildings occupy an entire block on rough-and-tumble Colfax Avenue.

Smiley’s 340 washers and dryers can handle up to 600 loads at any given time, or about 10,000 pounds of clothes an hour, said Smiley, who was born Art Cormier but says he never is called that.

On a good day, he said, up to 1,000 people bring their clothes in. Smiley’s also offers dry-cleaning and rents formal attire.

Customers range from celebrities like Ray Charles and Michael Jackson when they’re in town, to East Colfax’s street people. Smiley’s eight doors have no locks; the Laundromat never closes.

Cormier tried operating 20 other laundries around Denver before going for the world title with Smiley’s.

″I bought this property on East Colfax for that purpose in 1979,″ he said, smiling.

″No one likes to do things halfway.″

Smiley gave life insurance and piano-playing a spin before he hit on laundry.

Now, he strolls around the Laundromat changing bills for customers and chatting for 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

He attributes his success to location, customers and his bubbly personality.

″You can wash your clothes anywhere. A lot of people come here as much for the show, the intrigue, the unusualness,″ he said.

How does Smiley, who lives in an apartment two stories above the Laundromat, know his establishment is really the world’s largest?

″The equipment distributors tell us so,″ he said. ″They’ve all told us there’s nothing as large as we are anywhere ever.″

Outside are signs proclaiming Smiley’s ″Denver’s Friendliest″ and ″World’s Largest Discount″ Laundromat. It’s about a mile east of the Capitol, near Denver’s wealthiest homes and some of its poorest.

That makes Smiley’s what its proprietor likes to call, ″a melting pot.″

″It broadens your outlook - I’ve gotten into more deep conversations here, with all different kinds of people. This is reality,″ said 33-year-old Marion Crawford, who was waiting for a load of wash to finish spinning.

One customer said she wouldn’t go to Smiley’s alone because of the clientele and the neighborhood.

But Smiley says he’s never been robbed, although he does have to break up occasional fistfights over washers and dryers.

″At busy times, there’s just a lot of people,″ he said.

His typical customer, he said, is ″someone from the planet Earth″ who doesn’t even live in the Capitol Hill area.

Lisa Gonzales and Ferlin Eagle Horse, for example, drove across town and past several other Laundromats to get to Smiley’s. They said they liked Smiley’s prices (50 cents for a single-load washer; 25 cents for 12 minutes in a dryer, compared with 75 cents to wash, 50 cents to dry elsewhere) and the fact they usually didn’t have to wait for machines.

Smiley says a lot of people make friends in his Laundromat, and at least two have gotten married.

Smiley, who dabbled in real estate and got burned when Denver’s economy sank in 1982 with the oil industry, says he landed in a business that actually does better in hard times.

″I think right now there’s more people using Laundromats because of the depressed economy in Denver than ever before.″

He plans to expand his operation on East Colfax this year, and someday open two Laundromats in the suburbs.

″On a smaller scale though,″ he said. ″You couldn’t do this again. You wouldn’t have the personality. There’s just no location like this anywhere else.″

And it would have to have him, he said.

″If I were to leave, the customers would leave. I give the personality. I guess I fit.″

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