An Inquirer photographer found more than clean clothes at this North Philly laundromat

Every Monday, we present a gallery of pictures of the week that just passed, taken by our staff photojournalists — and tell you the story behind one of them. This week staff photographer Tom Gralish finds opportunities for observation among the ordinary.

Gerald Chandler pushes his 1-year-old daughter Ari Chandler in a basket as he does their clothes at The Laundry Cafe. The local chain of high-end Laundromats in lower-income neighborhoods is being lauded for bringing excellent service and community commitment to areas that have long needed attractive, well-run places for residents to do their laundry.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Gerald Chandler pushes his 1-year-old daughter Ari Chandler in a basket as he does their clothes at The Laundry Cafe. The local chain of high-end Laundromats in lower-income neighborhoods is being lauded for bringing excellent service and community commitment to areas that have long needed attractive, well-run places for residents to do their laundry.

Driving to a strip mall in Philadelphia’s Fairhill neighborhood, Inquirer staff photographer Tom Gralish was not expecting much from the assignment about a business. It was the type, like taking pictures of buildings, often presented by his editor as a “Get in and get out.”

He was there to get a portrait of the three founders of a chain of laundromats located mostly in communities where it is not uncommon to find bulletproof glass between business operators and their customers.

“Upscale does not even come close to describing the place,” Gralish said.

That it was different became immediately clear to him as he was greeted at the front door.

“I’m making small talk with the owners and suddenly I see a kid doing cartwheels between the line of dryers,” he said.

Gralish stopped chatting and photographed that scene, met the child’s mother, then went around the Laundry Café introducing himself to the other customers before he spent the next hour taking pictures he described as the “most satisfying I’ve made in a long time.” And he wasn’t just talking about the deluxe decor and amenities that Fodor’s Travel named among 10 laundromats around the world that “provide much more than soap suds,” like a library of kids’ books, free WiFi, and massage chairs.

Among the people he photographed was Gerald Chandler with his 1-year-old daughter Ari in a car seat on the floor in front of him as he loaded the washer. Later Gralish, with a new group doing their clothes, turned to see them laughing as they rolled along in a basket.

For Gralish, the photo of a dad and his daughter enjoying each other’s company while doing something so mundane as laundry shows what he sees as the real importance of newspaper photojournalism: “Capturing those spontaneous moments as people go about their everyday lives, and finding something interesting in the ordinary.”

» SEE MORE: Last week’s staff photo gallery and the staff photography page

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