Jun. 3--PROVINCETOWN, Mass. -- On the Outer Cape, the status symbol this season is not the private beach pass or the ocean view. It's something far more basic: a sturdy washer-dryer unit.
Knowing someone who has one can make a huge difference, since the only retail laundry service serving the area unexpectedly shut its doors a few weeks ago. That has left residents and visitors alike with no choice but to drive 27 miles to Orleans for the nearest public laundromat, or to find friends who might let them impose.
"I think there's going to be a lot of making friends very quickly this year," said Joy Ursillo, a city sewer consultant and five-year resident. "Down here, it used to be, 'Do you have a shower?' but we got over that hump. Now, I'm sure the pickup line this year is going to be, 'So, do you have a washing machine?' "
Maintaining public laundry facilities has been an uphill battle for years in Provincetown, where strict environmental regulations have sunk more than one laundromat. Because the town in the past lacked a sewer system, disposing of all the dirty wash water was difficult, requiring expensive equipment and driving at least two laundromats out of business.
But many had hoped that this season, one year after Provincetown's sewer system came online, a public laundry would be a reality. In fact, four local entrepreneurs have expressed interest in opening a laundromat.
But disagreements between town officials have stalled approval of any of the proposals. Each plan needs approval from three town entities and must comply with state Department of Environmental Protection regulations.
If the stalemate continues, Outer Cape residents and visitors without washing machines may have to continue hauling their laundry out of town until at least 2006. That's when the sewer system will be further expanded and, selectmen say, more locations will be available for a laundromat.
"This is crazy!" said Joey Kohon, who called a selectman last week to complain. Kohon's dirty laundry pile reached 5 feet high this week in his apartment in Provincetown -- he doesn't have a car or enough time off from his job at a sunglass shop to take a bus to Orleans for a day of laundry. "I don't know how much longer I can go on like this."
Because Provincetown is the only place on the Outer Cape with a public sewer system, it is the only town that can accommodate a laundromat. Neither Truro nor Wellfleet offers such facilities, county officials say.
Provincetown officials said they had no idea that Mama's Laundry would stop taking laundry this spring from individual customers -- the company still services commercial clients, such as inns and restaurants in Provincetown. And now many of those officials are blaming each other for the lack of an alternative.
Selectmen and a consultant at the town's Department of Public Works said they have been waiting for laundromat site recommendations from the Water and Sewer Board. The chairman of that board, meanwhile, said he offered recommendations last fall, but the selectmen pooh-poohed them.
"We told them everything we want, but they said, 'No, we don't want that. Come back with some more recommendations," " lamented Jonathan Sinaiko, Water and Sewer Board chairman. "I'm just so frustrated with the selectmen on this. Let 'em wait."
Selectwoman Michele Couture said Sinaiko is upset because the board did not immediately accept his suggested location of a former laundromat on Shank Painter Road not far from Provincetown harbor. She said that his plan did not include a detailed enough proposal and would have required the town to quickly expand the sewer line. "Yeah, he gave us a recommendation," she said. "That just wasn't good enough."
While town officials trade charges, residents and tourists are having to deal with a mounting problem.
Some appear to be in denial, watching and waiting as their dirty-clothes piles grow day by day. Some, like Boston resident Tom Barnes, have found creative ways to stretch out supplies of clean clothes. Barnes rented a cottage in Truro for the summer, and he said he has learned how to make his clothes last longer.
Some employers have taken to offering laundry benefits to employees, many of whom value the perk these days more than medical and dental insurance.
"I go through 14 outfits a week," said Kathy Pritchet, restaurant manager at The Commons Guesthouse & Bistro, which allows her to clean her laundry at work. "It's in my contract."
Couture is prescribing patience and issuing an advisory in the meantime. "If you're coming to Provincetown," she warned, "you better bring a lot of clean clothes."
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"Laundromat Closing Leaves Provincetown, Mass., Area without Facility." Boston Globe [Boston, MA] 3 June 2004. General OneFile. Web. 20 Nov. 2009.
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