Staff Reporter

Folding shirts he had just taken out of the dryer at a newly opened self-service laundry, Jos & #233; Almaraz contemplated getting a cup of Starbucks coffee to sip while waiting for the rest of his clothes to finish drying.

But he wasn’t on the Westside or in any other gentrified area where Starbucks stores are ubiquitous. He was in gritty East Hollywood, which only got its first Starbucks three months ago.

And Almaraz didn’t have to leave the laundry to get his coffee; Starbucks is right inside as are a Wells Fargo bank branch, a Burger King restaurant and a small convenience store selling snacks, laundry bags and detergent.

“You can shop for anything you want,” said 23-year-old Almaraz of Hollywood, who was patronizing the newest Lucy’s LaundryMart location for the second time. “There’s everything in here.”

The East Hollywood laundry, which opened late last month, is the fifth store in a chain of self-service laundries run by Torrance-based Lucy’s LaundryMart. Its target niche is high-density, urban neighborhoods.

The 9,000-square-foot laundry is also the first to incorporate a bank branch and a Starbucks. Burger King also was a partner in the chain’s fourth store, located in the Pico-Union district west of downtown one of the city’s poorest and highest-density neighborhoods.

Randy Landsberger, a founding partner of the 3-year-old company, said the strategy is to offer clean, safe laundries that incorporate other services needed in traditionally under-served neighborhoods.

“We go in there and we respect where we’re going,” Landsberger said, adding that the company tries to hire employees from within the neighborhood, as well as hire a large number of bilingual employees.

The neighborhood surrounding the Lucy’s location at Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue is primarily a lower-income neighborhood with an ethnically diverse population a mix including Latino, Armenian and Thai immigrants. The neighborhood is dotted with liquor store-deli combinations, ethnic restaurants, check-cashing outlets and motels that rent rooms by the week.

The neighborhood represents perhaps the biggest change for Seattle-based Starbucks Corp., which in the past has opened many of its locations in moderate-to-high-income areas, such as the Westside, along Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley and in Pasadena’s Old Town.

“It just seemed like a good vehicle for us to tap into a more diverse market a market we eventually wanted to tap into,” said Steve Ganalon, Starbucks’ director of development for the Southwest area.

Ganalon said that opening a counter in a mixed-use facility gives Starbucks the opportunity to enter a new market without taking the risk of building an entire store. “Here we could do it safely and in a vehicle that was financially feasible for us,” he said.

For Wells Fargo, which has only one full-sized branch in Hollywood, Lucy’s offered a chance to reach a market segment that banks have been criticized for under-serving: low-income, Latino neighborhoods.

“We certainly feel very strongly that the Hispanic market in Los Angeles is an excellent market to target,” said Shelley Benson, Wells Fargo’s retail division manager for the greater L.A. area. “And this location will certainly target that market.”

City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, in whose district the laundry is located, said banks are sorely needed in the area, which is dominated by high-cost check-cashing stores. The number of laundries, particularly for an area with so many apartment buildings, is also inadequate, she said.

“It’s just a really neat idea,” Goldberg said. “It’s the notion that people of all incomes need to do their laundry, to buy a cup of coffee, to make a deposit or cash a check.”

Lucy’s plans to build a second Hollywood location soon on North Cahuenga Boulevard near Yucca Street.

Even in the short time the East Hollywood Lucy’s has been open, it has attracted a large number of customers from the neighborhood.

On one evening last week, the laundry section was filled with dozens of people washing and folding clothes. The Burger King outlet has also been doing better than expected, said Larry Cimmarusti, co-owner of Glendale-based Cimm’s Inc., which owns the Lucy’s Burger King location, as well as the property the laundry is built on.

“It’s doing as much as a free-standing Burger King,” Cimmarusti said. “And that’s kind of exciting for us, because it’s a small unit and the volume is great.”

In fact, the store was so crowded last week even before its grand opening that some customers wondered whether to make it their regular laundry.

“It’s too crowded,” said 23-year-old Melissa Gilliam of Hollywood, who was washing clothes and drinking a Starbucks coffee last week. Gilliam said she is considering going back to her old laundry, which is more expensive and lacks a coffee counter. “It’s cheaper (here), but too crowded.”

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