The city’s laundromats are making adjustments to stay open during the pandemic. (Via World Journal, Courtesy Fengguan Chen)

Read the original story in Chinese at World Journal
Translated and condensed by Rong Xiaoqing

As one of the “essential industries” exempt from the “PAUSE” order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, laundromats are among the shops still open in this critical time. But Chinese owners of laundromats say they are worried more about their safety during the coronavirus pandemic, and some say they’ve had employees quit because they are afraid to come to work.

Fengguan Chen, vice president of the New York Laundromat Benevolent Association (NYLBA), who owns a laundromat at the intersection of Brooklyn and Queens, said he has been working in the neighborhood for ten years.

Gun fights were common in the area in the past, and his store was installed with bulletproof glass. While safety in the neighborhood has been improving in recent years, Chen said, he’s concerned it will get worse during the during the pandemic: A store across the street from his was robbed, and that makes him very worried.   

Chen said his shop provides both self-serve and full-service laundry options. But when the pandemic got worse, an employee resigned abruptly out of safety concerns, so he had to suspend drop-off service, which makes up one third of his revenue. The laundromat Chen’s father runs in Queens also had several employees who resigned, and now the laborious work has to be shared by three elderly employees.  

Chen said he reduced three hours from his shop’s operating time, due to the shortage of hands and security concerns. He said there are only three laundromats in the neighborhood, and if they all close, it would make life very inconvenient for residents. “I have never thought my job would be dangerous like those of police officers or doctors,” Chen said.  

Xu Jiang, president of the NYLBA, said that if the laundromats close, it would make prevention of the virus harder, as people would be unable to wash and sanitize their clothes.

Jiang runs four laundromats at Jackson Heights, Queens. He said he has required all employees to wear masks since the virus started spreading, and they’ve also prepared masks for the customers. But due to cultural differences, non-Chinese customers often don’t put on the masks the store provides, and this worries him.   

Jiang said some employees at his shops have resigned to avoid being infected. But workers from other closed businesses are now vying to get a job at the still-opened laundromats in order to make ends meet. “We have some newly hired Hispanic employees who worked for restaurants before,” Jiang said. 

Small businesses hit by the pandemic may be eligible for the city’s zero or low interest loan programs. Email the NYLBA to get more information: