In Pepperell, they have mountains of camp laundry to climb

Employees at Simard Laundromat and Dry Clean in Pepperell hustle to keep up with laundry from a New Hampshire summer camp.

Photos by Mark Lorenz for the Boston Globe

Employees at Simard Laundromat and Dry Clean in Pepperell hustle to keep up with laundry from a New Hampshire summer camp.

Monday is boys’ day at Simard Laundromat and Dry Clean in Pepperell, and when the trailer, just returned from a pickup at Camp Tevya, backs up to the entrance, Amber Joyce, 16, and Kirsten Livadas, 18, are waiting. They are approximately one-sixth of the crew, seasoned employees and as dependable as a clock.

The others will be arriving soon. There’s a grandmother of six whose hands are faster than her feet. Four skateboarders, all newbies, who listen to punk and metal on their headphones. A former competitive cheerleader with bad knees and a quick step in her flip-flops.


For most people, summer marks a time to slow down — at the beach or in the backyard hammock.

But at the Simard Laundromat, summer works in a different way. The hot weather brings mountains of dirty clothes, generated by approximately 350 boys and girls ages 8 to 16 attending the camp in Brookline, N.H., about 7 miles north of this small, quiet town. Campers can attend one or both 3½-week sessions. Not until camp ends in mid-August does the workforce dwindle, and the coin-operated laundry assumes its normal rhythm — a steady stream of regulars during the week and rarely a wait, except on the weekends.

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But on this day it’s full steam ahead.

Four days a week are devoted to camp laundry. Girls’ stuff is done on Tuesdays and Thursdays; boys’ on Mondays and Wednesdays. Laundry for Tevya’s 150 staff members gets picked up with the campers’. For the most part, it’s one bag, one camper, although if they only have a small load they can mix with someone else. Simard handles each bag separately.

Boys tend to have less laundry than girls, but it’s dirtier. Beach sand collects in socks worn with “mandals’’ and gets inside pockets and seams. Sweat infuses T-shirts and boxer shorts; towels, sheets, and pillow cases take a drubbing. But quantities are manageable and boys’ clothes are uncomplicated, easier to deal with than the ones the girls send in. Nonetheless, collectively there’s almost a ton of dirty clothes stuffed into the bags, enough to keep the 14 washers and 18 dryers running all day; enough to send Debbie Simard on several trips to the bank for quarters, and to make power lifters and sprinters out of the two sweet-faced girls whose ponytails bounce as they walk.


The girls hoist stuffed bags as if they were boulders, piling them by the door. In the end, there’s a mountain of work. They don’t talk much. But they move fast and keep their eyes open.

The process starts with a good shake to unleash anything likely to be hiding in a pocket or seam; the clothes are deposited in the washers, the quarters inserted; and the door locked shut. Then comes the water, swishing loudly, the clothes spinning crazily all the way to the end. And finally, the dryers, rattling and humming while inside the window ribbons of color tumble and float, a repetition as mesmerizing as white noise.

By 10 a.m., more helpers arrive, nine teenagers, one woman in her early 20s, and Sue Alderman, the grandmother of six, who has been folding camp laundry since Debbie and Steven Simard took over the camp account six summers ago.

It is not a job with strict rules, a dress code, or a uniform requirement. Smokers are allowed to step outside to have a cigarette. Workers can talk, or not, as they please. And the boss is OK with any kind of music, as long it’s not played too loudly. In return, employees are expected to show up on time and follow the protocols that make doing laundry for hundreds of campers an efficient process.

Once the clothes go into the dryers, the room heats up — and keeps getting hotter. On this day the temperature outside is climbing, too.

“It gets very hot in here,” says Kirsten, who will soon be moving to Miami to start college. “We normally have every fan in here on by the end of the day.”

Folding is the showstopper, but it doesn’t begin until every pair of shorts, socks, and boxer shorts, every T-shirt, bathing suit, and towel in the bag has been washed and dried. It’s the job that separates the amateurs from the pros, the performance and encore wrapped into one: Wrinkles must be smoothed, garments shaped, and edges squared, because in this line of work presentation is everything.

And everyone knows that Debbie will make the rounds, checking the work of the newest workers. She won’t hesitate to pick up a garment that doesn’t meet the folding grade and shake it out, calling “Reject!”

But nobody seems to mind, and some employees say that when you see the boss working as hard — or harder — than you are, it’s impossible to take offense.

Greg Goulding, who is 18 and had his challenges getting through high school, says he’s learned “good morals” from the job. He said he’s developed a work ethic and the confidence he’ll need for whatever he does next, either college or the military.

He’s not the only one, either.

“Most of the time, it’s their first job,” says Debbie, who is middle-aged and has been working since she was 14. “If I can show them a good work ethic, I’m happy.”

At midday, she sends Amber out to pick up five large pizzas. There is a trivia question before lunch, which is eaten standing up, and a prize, a $25 gift certificate to a local business.

Debbie makes another run to the bank for more quarters; the machines keep humming; and a few regular customers straggle in to do their wash.

By early afternoon, there are still more clothes to load — and more sand to shake out of pockets and socks. But the ratio of clean to dirty is tipping toward clean.

“A few more bags and we’ll be all in,” calls 16-year-old Brianna Keirstead, the former competitive cheerleader, who hasn’t yet noticed that while the mountain of laundry bags by the door has dwindled to a small hill, there’s a lot more to go.

“We’ve still got the ones on top!” Debbie says, wiping sweat from her face and nodding toward a row of front loaders.

Visit www.bostonglobe.com/west for a Simard Laundromat photo gallery. Hattie Bernstein can be reached at hbernstein1@hotmail.com.
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