Clothes washing woes

With the recent announcement that Bar Harbor’s longest operating coin laundry may close, the community faces the very real prospect of no convenient place for hundreds of folks to wash and dry their clothes. While much of the discussion surrounding that unfortunate prospect has focused on the high cost of water and sewer services, the business reasons for such a move are more complicated.

Some complain that the town’s water and sewer rates need to be lowered drastically to assist such operations. However, standard industry usage figures suggest that current water and sewer rates contribute only 40 cents to the cost of a load of laundry, for which a patron pays between $2 and $2.75. Were that rate cut in half, the cost saving would be 20 cents per load.

Utility costs for water and sewer are not the most significant expense in operating a laundry. And they are incurred only after a sale has been made. Fixed overhead costs, such as rent or mortgage, insurance and property taxes and operating cost including heat, electricity and labor account for most of the expenses. Changes in competition, like laundry facilities in more accommodations, and increases in all expenses, amortized over fewer and fewer loads, put the greatest pressure on profits.

While revenues in peak season may help underwrite leaner months, eventually there just isn’t enough profit margin to justify the operation. Any criticism leveled at business owners looking to cut mounting losses is unfair and unwarranted.

The plight of Bar Harbor coin laundry owners is a microcosm for the struggles faced by proprietors of any number of businesses attempting to remain open year-round in an increasingly seasonal economy.

As folks in Northeast Harbor already have realized, when year-round homes increasingly are sold to those seeking only seasonal occupancy or rental income, the pool of year-round customers shrinks. As that happens, it’s not just business owners that suffer. The entire sense of community is diminished.

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