Sunshine Laundry & Linens Adapting To Changing Times
washing machines that use ozone as an antiseptic.
There was a time, 50 or so years ago, when almost every family sent its laundry out to a commercial laundry service. A truck picked it up and brought it back, cleaned and neatly pressed, the following week.
Thanks to the advent of the home washer and dryer, those days are long gone. So are most of the companies that flourished during that era.
One industry veteran still around is Sunshine Laundry & Linens. It moved to the Newington Industrial Park this past September  after being located on Maple Avenue in the South End of Hartford for 96 years.
"My great-grandfather started it in 1917," said Bruce Johnston, a lifelong Wethersfield resident and the company's president and owner. His sister Laurie Manke is also part of the operation.
Five decades ago, there were 35 commercial laundry businesses in Greater Hartford.
"By the time I got in the business, there were only three left," he said.
Johnston joined the family business in 1974 after graduating from the University of Connecticut. Home pick-up and delivery was still a part of the scene.
"When I came, we had Chevy step vans," he recalled. "We went from a house-to-house business to basically all commercial" in 2014.
The Hartford plant was an old building that ran on an oil-fueled generator that, in turn, powered a big steam engine.
"We could have powered a whole city block," Johnston said.
The 1973 Arab oil embargo caused a significant financial strain as the cost of oil rose dramatically. Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries cut off supplies to show their disapproval of America's support of Israel during that year's Arab-Israeli War.
But, Sunshine Laundry somehow survived.
Now located in 16,000 square feet at 16 Rockwell Rd., Johnston decided to leave the Hartford location after a devastating fire nearly put the company out of business. He said it was not financially possible to rebuild on the city site. "We burned to the ground" in that October 2008 blaze.
Firefighters were able to save the company's storage building, and that helped them stay alive. So did assistance offered by several competitors, including the use of their plants during off hours.
"We had a tough five years, between burning down and the economy," Johnston said.
The days of laundering shirts are over. These days, the company provides things such as linen rental and uniform cleaning services to colleges, private schools, banquet facilities, hospitals and a variety of other businesses.
It also handles sheets, pillowcases, towels and related items used in school and college summer programs. Keeping up with changing times and finding new niches are necessities in today's marketplace.
Those changes tend to be fast and furious at times and are more numerous, too, but Johnston firmly believes that Sunshine Laundry is positioned to enjoy a successful future.
"We went through the executive dining room market" until that dried up as large companies stopped running their own dining establishments and hired private contractors to do that for them.
Johnston said Sunshine Laundry hires from all walks of life and he is proud that every immigrant group that has come to Hartford has been able to find jobs with his company. Among them is a recent influx of Albanians.
"We bought this [Newington property] two years ago and rehabbed it," said Johnston. "We have to be more efficient because of the competition."
Sunshine Laundry's modern plant is much more green and energy efficient than its predecessor. Electricity and natural gas provide the power; no more heavy oil. That greener approach also extends to the products used in the giant washing machines.
"When I started, we were using real, natural, tallow-based soap. We used to cook the starch in a metal kettle," he said.
Modern detergents are citrus-based. The commercial washing machines can handle loads as heavy as 550 pounds, depending upon the material.
Two new washing machines he recently purchased [EDRO CSL225 and CSL450] utilize ozone as an antiseptic, something he said works even better than bleach in killing lice or bed bugs, if they are present.
The work is seasonal and spring and summer tend to be busier than winter.The plant employs 40 people in a variety of jobs.
Sunshine Laundry & Linens can be reached at 860-247-3264. Its website is www.sunshinelaundry.com.