Eagle laundry returns from ashes
EAGLE, Colorado The last six months have literally been a trial by fire for the folks at Western Slope Laundry in Eagle, Colorado.On June 5, the laundry was gutted by a blaze that started in one of the business commercial dryers.The blackest memory of the past six months was coming down here and seeing this place on fire, said laundry owner Bob Matthews. Things didnt get brighter for a while. For the first few weeks following the fire, Matthews and his wife, Beth, negotiated the insurance process and brainstormed ways to save their business. That meant making some pretty difficult decisions on the faith that insurance would cover their losses. The Matthews opted to lease a shuttered laundry facility in Montrose so the business could continue operating. They set out to find replacement equipment, not knowing if their insurance would cover the purchases. And, most importantly, they decided to rebuild in Eagle.Adversity is an opportunity to improve your situation, Beth Matthews said.Her words turned into the business mantra.
Western Slope Laundry opened 18 years ago, the brainchild of Bob Matthews. He came to the valley in 1985 to take an executive housekeeping position with the Lodge at Vail. His resume included both lodging positions and work at a commercial laundry in Texas.In Vail, one of Matthews duties was to locate an outside contractor to provide laundry services. He wasnt impressed with his options, and the idea of starting his own company started to percolate. He moved over to Lodge Tower in 1987 and spoke with his general manager about the business idea. Ultimately he teamed up with a couple of investors to launch the commercial laundry in November 1990.During the first year of operation, the laundry handled an average of 1,500 pounds of linens per day jumping to about 4,000 pounds during the holidays. The business has grown steadily over time. Last year in March, we processed 1 million pounds in a single month, says Matthews.The company is understandably discreet about its client list, but suffice it to say it reads like a whos who listing of Western Colorado hotels, lodges and restaurants.The laundry was also the impetus for romance. Bob and Beth Matthews met when she negotiated a laundry service contract for Streamside at Vail. The couple resides in Eagle and are the parents of Carly, 11, in addition to Beths two children from an earlier marriage, Katie and Mark Lovell.Over the years, the Matthews attended to their family and business. In the case of Western Slope Laundry, the two often blended, with Bobs brother, Ed, also working for the laundry. The Matthews clan was building the business when the fire brought everything to a halt last June.
One of the harshest things was the day after the fire, I didnt have any place to go to work. That was hard, Matthews said.Fortunately, he didnt stay inactive for long. Within days of the blaze, the laundry was again in operation in Montrose. A dedicated corps of employees temporarily relocated to the site, and other Montrose-area workers were brought on to help.We had people who, without even having to think about it, took time away from their families and relocated, Matthews said.He singled out plant manager Aaron Bailor, chief engineer Ted Stepanski and floor manager Lesa Phillips for their efforts. Demolition at the Eagle building began July 11. From the start, Matthews told construction crews his building had to be back up and running by Thanksgiving. There never really was a choice about that. It just had to be done, he says.When he arrived at the laundrys burned-out shell on July 11, Matthews watched as crews began sifting through piles of debris. When they uncovered a pile of folded towels, the fabric burst into flame.If I hadnt see it, I wouldnt have believed it, Matthews said. It was amazing that after all the water that had been put on the building and the time that had transpired, that fire was still burning.He hired general contractor, C&H Construction, to complete the reconstruction. John Brgoch was brought in to oversee the job. John practically lived here. He kept the job scheduled practically to the minute, Matthews said.
Brgoch arranged everything from framers to electricians to plumbers. The very nature of the business mean a lot of detailed mechanical work had to be completed. While the crews worked around each other to reconstruct the building, Matthews had to search out new washers, dryers and other specialty equipment. Matthews credits his wife with taking point position on the insurance work needed to bring the laundry back to Eagle. They were on top of every information request. We actually had to learn an entirely new language insurance-ese, he said.While some of his friends have suggested he write a book about how to survive a business fire, Matthews is quick to note that the insurance process is detailed because it needs to be. The idea, he said, is to make the business whole rather than to realize a windfall.It is the insurance companys job to make sure there is no funny business going on, he said.But in addition to all the business related damages, Matthews insurance claim had to cover a somewhat unusual loss. During his spare time, he plays guitar for the local band Whos Driving. The band practices upstairs at the laundry.The last night we practiced here was the night before the laundry burned down, he says.Whos Driving band members lost their instruments in the June 5 blaze. However, a collection of guitars, drums and amplifiers are again scattered around Matthews office. The band has resumed Wednesday night practice at the laundry.As washing machines and dryers busily hum and workers hustled about, Matthews voiced his sincere appreciation to everyone who helped his business rebuild. I am so grateful to the local business community, local government and our customers who stuck with us, he says. Some times being in a small town can being really helpful being some place were people actually care about what happens. Without that kind of support, a fire like this could have been catastrophic.