by Laura Kussman
Last October 2021 when Yonanda Venema purchased the laundromat located on Mt. Baker Road, she knew the local service was needed. She and her husband, who introduced himself as “The Husband,” were retired and thought it would be a good opportunity to “be useful” in their community. They landed on a name, purchased a logo, bought a new Swiss iron and set straight to work.
“He’s the polar bear,” Venema says of her husband, Bert Doornmalen, smiling as the soft whir of a machine vibrates from the back of the tidy laundromat. “We thought this would be something we could do together. I’m enjoying my job, let’s put it that way.”
Polar Bear Laundry, which feels more like a lavanderia, uses entirely plant-based, biodegradable products. Venema manages all the laundering and what she calls “dry cleaning alternatives.” These services include wash & folds, pressing, handwashing, steam washing, sweater de-pilling, small alterations and garment de-shrinking, to name a few.
“We believe that most items do not need to undergo this often harsh and chemical treatment. And BTW – there is nothing dry about ‘dry cleaning,’” Venema said. “It is a dry cleaning alternative, using similar equipment but gentler cleaners and processes. Often times the results are better.”
On top of the large, center table sits a recently cleaned red wool Pendelton blanket which Venema says had a large milk stain on it when it arrived, as well as a nicely folded cream wool sweater.
“This sweater was beige when it came in,” said Venema, adding she sees a lot of cashmere and wool garments. “Laundry is all about knowing the material.”
Venema, who was born and raised in a town just southwest of Amsterdam in The Netherlands called Leiden, lived in Hong Kong with her husband for 36 years before landing on Orcas around 2015 to be closer to their son-in-law and granddaughter.
On an island where the cost of living continues to rise, Venema expressed a resolution to offer her services at affordable costs for all. Wash and fold services will run you back $3 a pound; washing a large comforter, which she says is one of her most common drop-offs, runs $45.
“It all depends on how much time I need to spend on something, really,” Venema says.
She pauses to ask “The Husband” if charging $20 for garment pick up and drop anywhere on the island was reasonable. Both postulated that perhaps that was asking too much.
Toward the end of our conversation, a man arrives to pick up his clean and pressed dress shirts. The large leather strap of bells on the door signals to Venema a customer has arrived.
“Good morning, I think it’s George your name, correct sir?” Yolanda greets him. He pays $18 in cash and shows himself out.
All pricing, contact directives and more informaton are available on the Polar Bear website at polarbearlaundry.com.