People exercise their options at Clean & Lean. Some of them hike a while on the Stairmaster or read a book on the cycling machine or spend some time in the weight room. Others arrive for tanning appointments. The hot tubs are popular, and so is the kiwi-lemon-lime juice.
In the meantime, they're washing their dirty socks. It's known as the "low-fat laundromat."
"Some people will spend four hours here," said David Drupa, manager of the new laundry/fitness center on Route 1 in College Park.
"They'll come in, do their full workout, do their laundry, take a shower, and come out clean and lean," he said.
Maybe it had to happen. At Clean & Lean, just south of the University of Maryland campus, workout classes are scheduled to coincide with the wash cycle. No longer does one have to endure the clock-dragging tedium of doing laundry; now, a customer can sign up for a monthly fitness membership and "unlimited tanning."
The franchise, a California product, is the first of its kind in the eastern United States, said owner Lea Callahan. In these risky economic times, such "schizophrenic businesses" have the best chance of surviving, she said. Thus, a laundry that sells tanning lotions and vitamins, a laundry with the phone number 864-THIN.
At peak times on the weekends, all the motion at Clean & Lean could make a person seasick -- clothes flopping and twirling in the red and chrome machines, bodies stretching and hopping in the mirrored exercise rooms.
It's a far cry from the setup one block south, at Soap's, the laundry that has combined clean clothes, video games and the easy atmosphere of a television lounge for the last eight years. Those are "the couch potatoes," Callahan said. They eat nachos.
Callahan and the owners of Soap's say they don't feel they're taking business away from each other -- there's enough dirty laundry to go around.
But at Clean & Lean, Callahan wants "to attract the brains as well as the brawn," she said. There's a special room upstairs where the studious can retreat, with the ability to keep an eye on their laundry through a big observation window.
Other extras include telephones in the two hot tub rooms and cassette players that allow members to bring their own music to soak by.
A Long Island native, Callahan said she scouted several spots on the East Coast when deciding where to locate her franchise. She ended up putting about $120,000 in capital improvements into the corner building with the wide glass front, which was built in the 1940s as a car showroom and most recently housed a hot tub business. She figured that the 50,000 students, faculty members and employees at the university would give her an instant clientele. Open since mid-October, the fitness center has about 70 members; membership fees are $24.95 a month. And Callahan says she is happy with customer response so far.
Abbey Jones, 21, a business major, walked in with her laundry basket on a recent afternoon, filled a washer for the delicate cycle, then headed to the stair-climbing machine. She tries to come every day, she said, and not always with her dirty laundry.
"In winter, I can never get myself to go jogging," she said. "I live in a sorority and everybody's been laughing at me: 'Hey, are you going to Clean & Lean again?' . . . I was getting so sick of how much I was eating."
Chris Beckham and Jon Tonetti said they have no use for the washers; they can do laundry at their apartment complex. They have a nobler goal.
"It's time to get in shape again," said Beckham, 24, a restaurant manager who lives less than a block away. "I'm going to force myself to get up and come in here."
While it's true that Callahan is installing a large television set, and cable sports are coming in January, she vows to remain true to the concept of clean clothes and lean physiques. "Everybody," she said, "just loves the whole ideology."