I’ve lived in a house on Lafayette Street for the last three years during my time at the College of William and Mary. I get most of my necessities within a mile radius. I get groceries at Bloom/Food Lion, I get gas at Kim’s, I get home improvement items at Ace, I get lunch at China House, and, seasonally, I get Italian ice at Rita’s. I’ve driven, walked, biked, and skateboarded throughout the Lafayette, Richmond, and Monticello street/road area at all times of day and night. This area is my home. Still, I have not visited every shop in this small vicinity and rarely go out of my comfort zone. Thinking about where I should visit for this anthro-geo-historical project, I considered Nawab but was not yet hungry, Supreme Styles but did not need accessories, and City Nails, but I decided against a manicure when I saw Soaps-N-Suds and visualized the large pile of laundry on my bedroom floor. We have a washer and dryer at my house, so I’d never been to the Laundromat. In general, all I really knew about them was that my grandpa owned one when my mother was a young girl. She used to help him by sorting the change. So, I grabbed my dirty clothes, detergent, and some quarters and headed out slightly nervous about this new experience.

First off, I learned that one could not even use quarters at Soaps-N-Suds. I walked in and saw that I had to buy a prepaid laundry card with cash or credit. I buy the card, load my washers, and finally sit down and take a look around. I have 28 minutes to contemplate my surroundings. There are multiple TVs playing Judge Mathis to provide me with entertainment as well as vending and pinball machines. What interests me the most, however, is people-watching. Not trying to seem suspicious of voyeurism, I take a seat and look up at the TVs peeking around at my fellow customers in my periphery. I see the Laundromat attendant, an older African American woman, sweeping in the far right corner, a Hispanic mother with two young children playing, a young Caucasian couple folding clothes together, and a few solo people, two women and one male lounging around. While different demographics of people probably occupy Soaps-N-Suds at different days and different times, I guess that the majority of people that go to the Laundromat are Williamsburg residents that are not college students, mainly older folks, and are likely in a slightly lower than average income level.  I bet a large majority of their clientele lives in the Lawson apartments behind the Monticello Shopping Center of which Soaps-N-Suds is a part. Most college students, I assume, wash their clothes on campus or like me, at their temporary house.

After my wash loads are finished, I transfer my clothes to the dryers. By this time, I feel very comfortable. I think part of my nervousness coming to Soaps-N-Suds was that I would do something wrong or unconventional in the washing process and have someone look at me weird or have to ask for help. But with my clothes on their way to being dry and warm, I sit a little more relaxed and enjoy the small claims monetary disputes on TV. Though I do not foresee my need to visit Soaps-N-Suds regularly, I feel as though I have a better view of a bustling Williamsburg local spot. I probably would have never seen this part of Williamsburg without this project’s incentive. Hungry after folding my clothes, I head across the street and order the lunch special at China House.


The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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