Goin’ with Cohen: Running Better in Philly (Conclusion)
Betterson’s Eagles connection catches eye but North Carolina roots leave lasting impression
PHILADELPHIA — James Betterson is on the move inside his North Philly laundry whether he’s there or not. Patrons tackling their weekly wash come face-to-face with the former NFL player barreling through a hole in the Washington Redskins defense, seemingly heading right toward them as they finish loads in the centralized folding area.
The giant wall poster is more than a throwback to his playing days some 40 years ago. For this retired Philadelphia Eagle running back and kick return specialist, putting his best foot forward is still in play at BetterClean Laundry.
SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY SHINES
Once patrons pull up to his 3,400-square-foot store, the Southern hospitality shines as bright as BetterClean’s stainless steel equipment. Both Betterson and staff keep an eye out for arrivals to lend a helping hand carrying in loads and, for first-timers, an introduction to the store’s machine selection and incentive-based loyalty card system.
Twin 80-pound front loaders, backed up by a dozen 60-pounders, are positioned just steps from the automatic front-door entry. Seven 40-pound, eight 30-pound, and 12 20-pound washers running perpendicular to the 14 stack 45-pound and eight stack 30-pound dryer tumblers round out the mix.
Washer banks are capped with diamond plate, an aluminum trim also employed as protective chair rail. Decorative green acrylic panels adorn the dryer wall and serve as a backdrop to color-coordinated signage detailing the laundry’s “free dry” and “pay dry-only” options.
Glass-front vending machines, an ATM and customer service counter, along with two dozen large-capacity laundry carts and an equal number of seats, line BetterClean’s perimeter. To the right of the counter is the heart of the store’s payment system: a pair of loyalty card loading stations and a bill breaker.
Pricing ranges from $3.49 for a 20-pound wash (plus 25 cents for extra wash or rinse) to $9.99 (plus 60-cent enhancements) for an 80-pounder. Free-dry cycle timing is calculated based on washer poundage, with 20 minutes offered for 20-pound loads and up to an hour for an 80-pound load in 30-pound stack tumblers, and from 16 to 48 minutes for loads dried in the 45-pound machines.
The store’s focal point, a spacious folding department boasting a dozen green-speckled tables, delivers a unique finishing experience with strategically placed TV monitors and soft, ambient lighting integrated into a curved drywall-ceiling canopy — all brought together harmoniously by the store’s signature game-day poster.
Additional TVs, a pair of children’s book boxes, and stainless-steel ceiling fans round out the creature comforts.
LEAVING A LASTING IMPRESSION
Betterson brought in an architectural firm to assist with both permitting and interior design to take his vision of Eagles’ kelly green and gray playing off lines of stainless steel and make it a reality.
His physical presence at the store is key.
“In a lot of Laundromats, the owner isn’t to be found. But I’m very visible here and proud of what we’ve done.”
While capitalizing on the Eagles connection plays a role, it’s his North Carolina roots — where people are greeted with a friendly smile and attended to — that leave a lasting impression.
The genial owner breaks away from our conversation to welcome some newcomers by getting them comfortable with the store’s offerings and the operation of the in-house loyalty card operation.
Soon after, one of his staff, Hobed Severe, guides an arriving patron through the process as the morning trade ramps up. Betterson says he tries to instill a team spirit in his employees through regular meetings and performance-based incentives.
Sunday is wash day, but also the time for football — traditions Betterson uses to his advantage in the city of the reigning Super Bowl champions. When the store celebrated its grand opening in April 2016, former Eagles Head Coach Dick Vermeil, retired Pro Bowl wide receiver Harold Carmichael and other players were on hand, creating quite a spectacle and helping put this neighborhood laundry on the map.
Since then, current and former players have paid visits to BetterClean, all memorialized in a photo gallery near the entry. Among the famed work is a classic shot of Betterson and teammates from four decades ago along with a more recent pose of the laundry owner holding up the Lombardi Trophy awarded to last season’s champion Eagles.
All that star power attracts curious laundry customers. Betterson grins as he recalls a patron visiting three times over the course of one week toting in not only wash, but another of her grandchildren and nephews each occasion to meet the owner.
“Their eyes got so big, goo-goo eyes,” he laughs. A handshake and selfie with the 6-foot-tall former NFL back, topped off with a free bag of snacks, turned an ordinary laundry run into an unforgettable moment — something Betterson is scoring points with: “I got ’em forever.”
Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE