Times are tough and getting tougher, but S. Solon Cohen has no qualms about soaking the rich. He figures, inflation or not, they'll pay at least 75 cents -- and maybe even $1 -- to wash their dirty linens in private.
Cohen, America's coin-operated washer-dryer king, whose machines tumble and churn the soft, silk lingerie and monogrammed sheets of some of Washington's most affluent tenants, is jacking up the price of a wash by 50 percent -- from 50 to 75 cents.
And if the chairman of Solon Automated Services has his way, the blue-blooded tenants in the Watergate -- just one of several high-priced apartments in Northwest Washington where many of his machines are located -- may soon be paying $1 to exorcise ring around the collar in their basement.
"I'm urging them to go to $1 in some of the high-rise buildings on Connecticut Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue and 16th Street," Cohen told shareholders at Solon's annual meeting yesterday.
"Where else they gonna go, to some crummy coin-op store?" Cohen said, referring to the wealthy widows and bureaucrats, admirals and attorneys, doctors and lawyers who live in apartments serviced by his machines.
Cohen once considered converting thousands of machines to accept the Susan B. Anthony dollar coins. But that was before inflation galloped off toward 20 percent, along with steeply rising utility costs and interest rates.
"It would be natural for us to have a dollar coin," said financial vice president John Denson. Jamming two, three and (soon, perhaps) four quarters into the slots sometimes causes the machines to break down, he said.
Solon operates the nation's largest fleet of coin laundry machines. Last year their coin boxes took in $66.4 million.
Among the buildings that will experience an immediate price rise to 75 cents are 2500 Wisconsin Avenue, Boston House at 17th and Massachusetts Avenue NW and Connecticut Heights Apartments at 4850 Connecticut Ave.
Solon has already converted 20,000 of its washing machines to charge 75 cents a load, said Solon's son Roy, the president of the company.
"Here in Washington we want to go to a dollar and in my opinion we're going to get it," said elder Cohen. "They're gonna pay it, there's no where else they can go."
Company officials said the price increases were necessary, largely because of rising utility costs and soaring interest rates.
Roy Cohen said Solon has slowed its expansion plans because of the high cost of borrowing, but has added about 4,000 new machines so far this year. He said the company, a Washington-based firm with regional offices in 44 cities, recently moved into California on its own rather than buy out an operator there, as it usually does when it enters a new territory.
"We expect more out of our machines than we did five years ago," said Cohen. "We're confident that, given time, we can adjust our prices to meet current inflation."