May 17, 2012 | Volume 42, No.20

Thieves stain welcome at laundromat

When Jan Dubber and husband Leonard built a new laundromat and showers near 1 Mile Haines Highway in 2009, they wanted a place the town could feel proud to send visitors to.

Jan Dubber in the gift shop of her laundromat on the town\'s west side. Dubber makes an extra effort to keep the place cheery and clean, but is discouraged by thefts from customer areas there. Tom Morphet photo.

They put Alaskan and family photos on the bright, white walls. They hung flags of Alaska and Canada from the ceiling. They brought in house plants and a moose rack and put up humorous signs. At a small gift shop inside, they sell Alaska-made crafts, including Jan’s beadwork and beach-glass earrings.

“We wanted it so people wouldn’t have to wait in a grungy place and watch their wash go around. I wanted to make it entertaining and pleasant, but after a while, you think, ‘Criminey,’” Jan said this week, discussing chronic thefts in recent months.

One of the place’s uncommon features is a boom-box stereo and a basket of CDs for customer use. The music selection keeps getting narrower. “Last year, everybody played the Patsy Cline album. This spring I thought I might listen to it, and it’s gone.”

Dubber was hanging a wall covering recently when she realized the empty space she was filling had been occupied by a “moose crossing” sign, now missing. Other pinched items have included vacuum cleaner attachments, rubber sink stoppers and cleaning rags.

“Some of these things are stupid things, but they are things that make our job easier and make the place nicer for customers,” Dubber said.

Inside the door of the place is a gallery of photos of customers doing things other than laundry – like cooking dinner, getting a haircut, or fixing their cars out front, accompanied by humorous captions.

“We keep trying to add new stuff, just to keep things fun,” Jan said. “We try to participate in (our customers’) lives and get to know them. A lot of return visitors are surprised if I recognize them or remember their names, or their truck, or that they were getting married. I talk to them and take an interest in them, even with the locals,” she said.

“We’ve had a rip-roaring good time with the people who come through here. It’s been way more fun than discouraging, by a long shot, but some days you just want to say, ‘Jeez,’” she said.

Dubber figures only about 1 percent of customers steal items, and vandalism hasn’t been a problem. “The most I can say is that somebody took a dog into the shower.”

Some high school students once started racing laundry carts around the place, and found out quickly the Dubbers’ living room window looks into the laundromat from across the street.

Dubber isn’t giving up faith yet. This week, she was working on a patriotic display at the business for Memorial Day.

To keep furnishings from walking out the door, she recently put out another, friendly sign that says, “If you are tempted to take ‘extra’ things with you, challenge yourself to live to a higher standard. Your life will be richer and you will like yourself.”

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