It’s not every day that the opening of a laundromat causes such excitement. But the occasion of the reopening of the St. Helena Coin Laundry next to Klass Cleaners at 1145 Main St. was, for some St. Helena residents, a moment to savor.

Navielly Rodriguez looked about her as her children helped her load a machine and took a deep breath. “This laundromat is great!” she proclaimed. “I’m really happy that it’s reopened. It was closed a long time.”

At the same time on Saturday afternoon, cars were pulling into the parking lot and customers — mostly women –were opening the trunks of their cars and lugging their baskets and bags filled with soiled clothing into the facility. It was clear by the efficiency of their movements that the chore of “laundro-mating” was routine.

Rodriguez recalled that for the last year, she sometimes had to drive as long as an hour to get her family’s clothes washed. But now, she said with a smile, St. Helena’s laundromat was finally open.

“What took so long?” she wondered.

The long saga of the resurrection of St. Helena’s only laundromat isn’t pretty. Charles Hall had purchased the business two years ago with the intention of bringing the facility back up to snuff.

“We replaced every piece of machinery in the building,” he said, remembering the work that he’d done.

New stainless steel-clad machines of various capacities were lined up in rows. Bright new dryers were calibrated to accurately time each load.

These machines were just the thing an agricultural community of vineyard and winery workers needed — especially if they didn’t have home facilities.

But then a fire shut down the facility for more than a year. According to Hall, a water heater in the back of the building malfunctioned causing the fire. The fire was so hot that it melted a pipe that fed the washing machines.

“It was lucky it melted that water pipe,” Hall said. “Or the whole building complex – Klass Cleaners and That Pizza Place – probably would have caught fire too.”

Hall immediately filed a claim with his insurance company, and the owner of the building – who had a different insurance agency – did the same. It took quite some time for the two companies to identify the cause and come up with a settlement.

Meanwhile, Hall was trying to get the repairs made. He submitted the plans to the City of St. Helena, but, according to Hall, they sent the plan to an outside company for approval. Hall said each review step and plan modification by that service took 28 days.

Months ticked by until the actual reconstruction process was allowed to begin. In the end, Hall said it took exactly 18 months from the time of the fire to the facility’s reopening. Meanwhile, Hall’s customers were struggling to find a decent laundry facility.

According to Google Maps, there are only five laundromats in the Napa Valley: Hall’s in St. Helena’s, two in Napa, one in Calistoga, and one in Angwin.

But according to Rodriguez, who was forced to try them all, there was no comparison to St. Helena’s. She remembered those experiences.

“Some of them were very dirty,” she said with a frown. “And there weren’t enough machines. And some were broken.”

Then she glanced around at the glistening new machines of the reopened St. Helena facility.

“Not like this. This is an important place for people here who don’t have laundry facilities. We’re glad they’ve reopened.”

Hall, when told of Rodriguez’s testimonial, laughed over the phone. He said he was thankful for the patience of the St. Helena community.

“We tried as hard as we could to get this place back up and running,” he said.


Tom Stockwell is currently a staff writer for the St. Helena Star. He is an author of fiction and non-fiction books and has been a working journalist for a variety of technical publications as well as a consultant for numerous wineries in the Napa Valley.