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Laundromat leader looks to expand during the pandemic

Al Urbanski
Essential businesses taking up 4,000 to 5,000 sq. ft., Brad Steinberg's laundromats are suddenly desired by shopping center owners.

As a kid growing up in Los Angeles, Brad Steinberg and his father would leave home at 10 a.m. to drive to a Dodgers night game so they could stop at a dozen laundromats on the way. After college, as an investment banker, he’d give financial advice to his dad, who ran the laundromat business his grandfather founded in 1968. PWS laundry has built and sold more than 3,000 laundromats since, and now the founder’s grandson is running the family business with a partner.

“I just love the business, and it’s misunderstood. The typical owner today is a professional, often with a tech background, who buys it for a second income. Then they come back and buy a second, a third, and a fourth,” Steinberg said.

PWS specializes in laundromats with wood paneling and leather furniture and names like Lucy’s LaundryMart and SpinCycle Laundry Lounge that cater to affluent renters. But necessity-based shopping centers in upscale neighborhoods have never been much interested in adding laundromat tenants.

“There was an image problem. Landlords think homeless people hang out there,” Steinberg said.

That’s changed since COVID-19 hit and many stores went dark. State and local governments, however, deemed laundromats as essential businesses and landlords re-evaluated their attitudes.

“Shopping center owners are calling me and emailing me because, well, who else is signing leases right now?” Steinberg said. “If you want to try and fill a four- or five-thousand-square-foot space today, your options are kind of limited.”

Steinberg’s ambition, however, is not. He’s looking to build 30 to 50 new locations in the next 12 months.

“We’re low rent-payers. We ask a lot from landlords,” Steinberg said. “When I’m negotiating with them, I say, ‘I’m going to be the lowest payer on your list, but we’re going to be in that space for the next 40 years and you’re never going to pay another broker commission on it.'”

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