Gerrit Rysdyk was cleaning the windows of Lux Laundromat when I approached him. The clean windows, freshly painted wall, beautiful hanging artwork and his wide smile are only a few elements that make Lux a welcoming hub for Sunalta residents and the art community around Calgary.
Two years ago Rysdyk bought the laundromat as a retirement investment, but the place was not a very attractive investment opportunity. It was a hang-out spot for homeless people and drug addicts. The police were called to the laundromat two or three times a week. The machines were old and dirty. The building was filthy. Rysdyk realized it would be a huge risk, but nothing is impossible for Rysdyk. He is a lifelong handy man with years of experience in construction and building new homes. He decided to close the place for six months and turn everything upside down, changing and cleaning every machine, every inch of the building. He kept a couple of items which indicate the originality of the place: an old Lux washing-powder box from which the place got its name and a motto saying: “Laundry comes in, clothes come out, life goes on.” The motto is written on one wall in old-fashioned handwriting as a gift from one of his clients.
The real attraction of Lux is that it is also a walk-in art gallery. Rysdyk says he got the idea from a friend who was admiring the high clean walls and wishing it was possible to hang some artwork. The idea was very attractive to local artists, art school students around Calgary and the art community. During the first few of months of opening up Lux as an art facility Rysdyk needed to invite artists to hang their work, but now the gallery is never short of supply. Every month there is a new exhibition. There is usually an opening event, sometimes with live music. Initially, artists invited their contacts to opening night, but now that the neighbourhood is aware of the event it attracts many neighbours who enjoy the entertainment, admire the artwork and most of all appreciate the change that Lux Laundromat is bringing to their community.
Rysdyk believes that a laundromat is the perfect community meeting place. He welcomes any information and posters to be hung in the window as a service to his clients. He provides one-on-one laundry lessons for anyone who asks him. He proudly browses the internet to show me his dream: having a laundromat café/ library where people can enjoy coffee, company and a good book while waiting for their clothes to be washed and dried.
Simple ideas turned a risky old building into a welcoming neighbourhood hub and a viable business. Rysdyk not only added to the economic and social value of the area, but he transformed Lux Laundromat into a gathering place for the community.
Visit the Lux Laundromat Facebook Page for more information.
Hadeel Qazzaz is the Neighbourhood Hub Coordinator at United Way of Calgary and Area. Calgary has many amazing gathering places where people meet, build relationships and do good for themselves and their communities. This post is part of the “Gathering Places” series which will highlight some of these experiences.