Eagle’s Western Slope Laundry carries on after fire
EAGLE, Colorado ” Early morning phone calls don’t usually bring good news.
When Bob Mathews got his call at 2:30 a.m. June 5, he learned the business he had painstakingly built over the past 18 years was literally going up in smoke.
Western Slope Laundry is a quiet giant. The industrial business operates from a location on Sawatch Road in the Eagle Commercial Park and was gutted by fire last Thursday. The blaze affected the livelihood of 25 full-time employees and 30 seasonal workers. Damages are estimated at more than $2 million. It also left a number of hotels, condominiums and restaurants grappling with how to handle their laundry.
According to Mathews, Western Slope Laundry handles several million pounds of commercial laundry annually for more than 125 large clients. Clients such as the Lodge at Vail.
Bryan Austin, general manager of the Lodge at Vail, said the posh hotel lost linens and uniforms in last week’s fire. “I think the fire had a big impact,” he said. “It is a very unfortunate thing.”
Fortunately, however, in the days following the fire, Mathews discovered a lot about client loyalty and community compassion. Within two days of the blaze, Western Slope Laundry was back in business, operating from a previously shuttered commercial laundry building in Montrose.
“Our clients are just standing by us,” Mathews said. He talks about how town and county officials have called to express their sorrow at the business loss and how local contractors have offered to help rebuild the laundry.
“Every time I get one of those calls, I get broken up,” Mathews said.
Then he laughs and draws and analogy from the “Blues Brothers” movie. “We’re on a mission from God … to get the laundry back open.”
Bob and Ed Mathews opened Western Slope Laundry 18 years ago. Since that time, the company steadily built its client list. Today, Mathews describes that list as stellar, featuring more than 125 accounts. “We have killed ourselves to build this company. It’s been our whole life and that’s why this (the fire) hurt on a very personal level.”
The average downvalley resident could well be unaware of Western Slope Laundry. The large cinderblock building sits off Sawatch Road, on the back side of the Eagle Commercial Park. The fleet of trucks picking up and delivering sheets, towels, linens and uniforms from lodges and restaurants to places like Vail, Aspen and Steamboat Springs was the most visible sign of the company’s presence.
It is with considerable pride in his voice that Mathews said those trucks are back on the road. Two days after the fire, Western Slope Laundry began operations out of Montrose. While he acknowledged it was a quick turnaround, Mathews said the laundry didn’t have the luxury of sitting around and mourning for its lost building. Western Slope Laundry needed to get back to business as soon as possible.
“We had no choice. Our obligation was to our customers first,” he said.
Mathews noted that a number of large lodges were able to make laundry arrangements for the first couple of days following the fire. He will forever be grateful to the hotels who agreed to share laundry facilities until his business was able to re-open.
At the Lodge at Vail, for example, Austin said there was a sufficient linen inventory to get by for a couple of days. The operation is sticking with Western Slope Laundry; Austin said the temporary move to Montrose just means there’s a 24-hour turnaround schedule rather than the customary 12-hour schedule.
“It works for us. We just have to make sure our inventory can sustain an extra 12 hours and is up to par,” Austin said.
Austin added that Western Slope Laundry’s insurance company has already been in touch to discuss reimbursement for lost linens. All in all, Austin said the laundry and the lodge have a mutually beneficial business relationship. Even a massive fire didn’t change that central fact.
Stories like Austin’s are gratifying for Mathews. He plans to demonstrate that same kind of loyalty to the community.
“It is our intent to rebuild the production facility in exactly the same place, exactly the way it was,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t build it just the way it was.”
In the meantime, many of the Western Slope Laundry workers are temporarily relocating with the business. Mathews also is hiring employees from the former Montrose operation. Other workers, such as truck drivers, are less affected by the move. “We have drivers and trucks and it’s all still in place.”
Mathews has already talked to the contractor who originally built the building, and set people to work locating the specialized, large-scale equipment Western Slope Laundry uses. It’s too early to say when the business will return to Eagle.
In the meantime, Mathews said the past week has been both expectedly painful and surprisingly uplifting as Western Slope Laundry makes its way out of the ashes.
“We serve the biggest and the best accounts around and they have all been incredibly supportive. They have said, ‘We are not going anywhere. You have been wonderful and we want to help.'”
He doubts he’d see that kind of support if his business was located in a large metropolitan area versus a small community.
“We are not some nameless and faceless business in the community where we do business. We truly appreciate all the support we have gotten.”
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