OSSINING, N.Y. — The legendary Sing Sing Correctional Facility, which opened in Ossining, N.Y., in 1825, has been home to such infamous prisoners as Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter and Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Even though there have been plans to convert the prison into a museum, it’s still in operation today.
Pedro Silva, an Ossining resident, is doing his best to shift the town’s emphasis away from the prison. “Yes, the prison is still here,” Silva says. “It should be out of here by now; we could use some different things in this town. It’s not a help to anything. Most of [the prison’s] workers don’t even come from around here.”
Due to the history of the village, a number of Ossining structures are on the National Register of Historic Places, and the downtown shopping area has been deemed eligible for listing. Despite this, one can understand how negative connotations can develop around an area that houses a prison. Yet Silva, a contractor, is doing his best to build up the area.
When a fire destroyed some apartments, along with a bar and a beauty salon, in 2007, Silva saw opportunity. He purchased the burned-out, four-story downtown property, and turned it into 12 one-bedroom apartments and a first-rate, 3,000-square-foot self-service laundry.
“In the last 10 years, the village has really improved. There are many hard-working people here — people who can afford to pay better rents.”
Silva knows all about the business climate in Ossining. He operated a grocery in the southern part of the village (about a mile or so away from his laundry) for 14 years, sold it, and has been a contractor for the last 12 years. “I’m just a builder, so this is my first experience with apartments and a laundry. I wanted to open a business for my son and daughter to run. I wanted something where I wouldn’t have to spend so much time at the business.”
Only the shell of the building remained; everything was built new from the bottom up, he says. In only 10 months, the new apartments and laundry were ready to go. Even the structural challenge of dealing with a basement below the laundry didn’t slow things down. “I never did such a big project in such a short time. Basically, I created a brand-new building, just keeping the same lines. The look is a lot different.”
LAUNDRY CUSTOMERS BENEFIT
While there are two older laundries in the area, the people of Ossining are seeing something new with Silva’s Riverside Laundromat, which opened this February.
“[Karl Hinrichs, HK Laundry Equipment] helped me with the project,” Silva says. “He has many years of experience, and gave me some good ideas. I also relied on my mechanical team. But after that, it was my creation.”
When Silva called inquiring about a laundry, it wasn’t a done deal yet, Hinrichs recalls. “I studied the demographics; there was another good store about four blocks away. But Pedro wasn’t concerned about competition. ‘I know marketing,’ he said. He was a very confident guy, and believed there was plenty of business. Even though he had no coin laundry experience, he had a background in an ethnic food store in Ossining.”
The card-operated store features 66 pieces of equipment. Customers can choose from 10 20-pound washers, 16 30-pound washers and six 60-pound washers. There are 20 30-pound stack dryers and 14 50-pound stack dryers. “My laundry is also not priced that high. I have mid-range prices.”
The attended store is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., although the hours may expand to 5 a.m. to midnight if business warrants the change. This is just another way for Silva to show that he’s a great believer in customer service. “My laundry is never left alone, and not because of security issues. I want to respond to my clients and take care of any problems.”
Customers are treated to a beautiful tile floor, an Internet kiosk, large-screen TVs and plenty of equipment (a 20-minute wash is available) for example, Silva says. All the major brands of soaps are available to the customers at competitive prices, he adds.
The store also makes good use of equipment islands. “I saw a lot of different laundry layouts and discussed them with Karl. I never saw any laundry with a layout like this in the Westchester area.”
Hinrichs is impressed with the laundry for several reasons. “This really isn’t a great location; it’s a low-income area that has had some crime problems. But there’s a police station nearby now, and the area has seemed to turn the corner a bit.
“The first thing that comes to mind about this laundry is the ‘wow’ factor. The left-hand area is the wash area, and the right-hand area is for the wash and fold and drying. It has a very open look. This isn’t your typical laundry. It’s the only card store in a 10-mile radius. It has good throughput on the weekends. When Pedro does something, it is done really well.”
MAKING THE INVESTMENT
It’s always a big jump for someone to build a large, ornate laundry, especially if the person has no experience in the business.
Silva has confidence in himself as well as the future of Ossining. Even though he has been working as a contractor for many years, he learned a lot about the difficulties of running a business when he operated his Ossining grocer. “Running the [store] was like being in jail,” he admits. “I worked seven days a week; it was too much time. I had to deal with 10 or 11 employees. I got up early in the morning and had to make the orders. I took care of everything — the meat, fish, etc.”
Silva is also optimistic about the changing neighborhood. “This is a mixed neighborhood; it’s about 80% Spanish. However, a lot of the Spanish workers can now afford to pay better rents. The village is in better shape; it’s as clean as a normal village. It’s also safer.”
Silva admits to having a different mentality when it comes to business. “It’s always worth it to spend more. This is true with my apartments. My apartments are high-end, more expensive to rent [$2,000]. I believe in change. We are getting a different type of clientele from the city. If you spend more, down the line there is a greater profit, and you get a better clientele.”
Silva is pleased with how his laundry turned out, but being the perfectionist, he believes there are always little things that can be improved on if he opened another laundry. He’s already thinking about adding some dryers to handle the extra loads generated by the larger washers.
Opening a new business can cause sleepless nights for any owner, especially in challenging economic times. Silva admits that things have really changed recently, with a new president, a struggling economy, and a rough winter. “Everyone has been hurt.”
Patience, plus a first-rate store, may be the perfect equation for Silva. “I’ve opened many businesses, I know how hard it is to start a business. You need to be patient and consistent. You can’t succeed in one day. Others may not be as optimistic, but I am optimistic.
“Soon it will be time for my clientele to work outside; there will be more clothes to wash. I’m happy now, but in six months I expect to see even better business.
“You need to do a lot of things right to convince people to visit your store. I used flyers when the laundry opened, plus word-of-mouth advertising. Everyone knows us; we’ve been here for 23 years.
“A new business is just like fishing — you put your line in the water and you wait.”