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Could there be a new spin on doing your laundry in Evanston's 5th ward?

The answer is "Yes!" if Tosha Wilson and Jacqueline White have anything to do with it.

A small but supportive group of Evanston residents gathered in the Family Focus Evanston library this past snowy Saturday afternoon to hear cousins Tosha Wilson and Jacqui White's vision for "The Laundry Cafe," and find out what it will take to make it happen.

The business--a marriage between necessity (clean clothes) and community-building (comfortable chairs, coffee)--would be a valuable addition to a ward that, Wilson points out, has no public school, no bank, and no grocery store, and to a city with just four laundromats.

The Laundry Cafe is a project of Florence Kid Inspired, LLC, which Wilson and Whitesay they founded with the goal of making a difference in their own neighborhood.

[Photo: Jacqui White, left; Tosha Wilson, right]

"We believe in creating an Evanston for everyone," says Wilson, "And we have an investment plan designed to promote equity through economic development."

The cafe would be staffed by three to six employees to start, and would offer hot drinks, pastries, sandwiches and the like. It would provide a convenient and comfortable space to hang out and socialize while your clothes soak and spin, and would be a go-to for neighborhood meetings and gatherings.

If residents don't have time to stay, laundry drop-off service will be available, and that, says Wilson, will eventually grow into a pick-up laundry service as well.

The two women have their eye on a location--but for now it's undisclosed as they continue to iron out the logistics.

Wilson and White both grew up on Florence Street and have been close since childhood. They're now both police officers--Wilson a detective with the Evanston Police Department, and White an officer in Highland Park.

Their project will need donors and investors to succeed. Wilson says they need to raise at least $200,000 (read more in the interview below about how to help raise funds for this endeavor).

Photo: The Laundromat Cafe in Copenhagen, Wilson's inspiration for the Laundry Cafe

If you're interested in supporting this venture, email Tosha and Jacqui.

Click here to donate directly to their brand-new GoFundMe.

For more info: email Tosha and Jacqui.

I talked to Tosha last week to find out more about the Laundry Cafe.


DE: Tell me about this idea you have for a laundry cafe in the 5th ward?

TW: The 5th Ward lacks resources in many areas of the community. Just recently, I realized there is no bank, no public school, no grocery store and no laundromat. There are no businesses that bring community together. The 5th Ward needs this.

DE: Describe your concept to me.

TW: We envision The Laundry Cafe to be spacious, clean, and comfortable. People spend about two hours at a time in a laundromat. Why does it have to be cold, dirty, and unattended?

Jacqui and I are lucky to have laundry in our homes, but we remember the times when we had to sit in the laundromat being bored and cold, on uncomfortable plastic seats. And God forbid you come on a busy day and people are sitting on the folding tables just passing the time.

We want this to be a place of necessity and community all in one place. There'd be comfortable chairs, cups of coffee, a slice of pie, and free Wi-Fi. If you don't have laundry, you can still stop by, say hello, and have a breakfast sandwich and a cup of tea.

If you're like the two us, you'll drop your clothes off for the Wash-and-Dry service and walk out with a sandwich ... because you'll be picking your clothes up later. That's like washing clothes in four minutes: two minutes to drop off; and two minutes to pick them up. Chore done!

DE: How did you and Jacqui come up with this concept?

TW: I was bored and surfing the web one day, when I came across a picture of a laundromat in Copenhagen. I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. There were lounge chairs, bean bags, and books on shelves like a small cozy library, but it was a laundromat.

I was obsessed with the idea for about two years, and kept bringing it up to all my friends. I finally took the idea to my Jacqui and she said, "Why not?" I felt bad for dragging her into my obsession, but she agreed that it was a great idea and that we'd ride the wave together. My goal is to not kill her credit, but she said, "I trust you," as I would her. So we're here!

Photo: Another view of The Laundromat Cafe in Copenhagen, Wilson's inspiration

for The Laundry Cafe

DE: What need will the Laundry Cafe fill?

TW: I love the 5th Ward, but sometimes I drive through and wonder, "What's the difference between here and struggling parts of Chicago?" There is no grocery store, there is no bank, there is no public school, and you can't even wash your clothes in your own neighborhood!"

How can a community that speaks of inclusion, equity, and fairness not see this? People have to go to Main and Dodge, Noyes, Howard Street, or even Skokie to clean their clothes. Is there a reason for that?

It would also fill a community development need because when we grew up, we had options: at Church and Dodge (still do, thanks to Wendy Weaver and Clarence Weaver and their C & W Market and Ice Cream Parlor); Darrow and Church; Simpson and Dodge; and even Simpson and Darrow. Businesses were everywhere, and now they're gone. It's like we're fighting to survive within something that we built.

DE: What kind of food would you serve?

TW: We would serve coffee, tea, slices of cakes and pies, fresh fruit from the farmers markets in town, and other sundries. We plan to offer a variety of sandwiches.

DE: You grew up in Evanston. How has it changed since you were a kid?

TW: Jacqui and I grew up in the 2nd Ward, but we spent a lot of time in the 5th Ward. Actually, this "ward thing" is relatively new to us. Neither of us really speak the "ward" language. We were just from "The West End" growing up.

We were Florence Kids, hence the LLC name. We grew up across from Mason Park where we were inspired to be great and taught to be tough. We were shaped into leaders, listeners, and protectors. Many of your readers were there with us. It was an awesome time to be a kid.

We remember vividly real community, real businesses, and a sense of responsibility that our parents had about giving back.

Jacqui's father is a well known football and basketball coach, my father (Lonnie Wilson) worked for years at Family Focus Evanston, and our homes were where all the neighborhood kids came to be themselves, and our mothers fed everyone in sight. We knew our neighbors, they knew us, and it was love. Mason Park was full of life, basketball, and barbecues. We were all responsible for one another. Today we don't see that level of community. The Laundry Cafe is one step toward bringing back what made us who we are.

DE: What are the most pressing issues for POC and Black Evanstonians—especially those who live in the 2nd, 5th and 8th wards?

TW: I no longer live in Evanston, but Jacqui lives in the 5th Ward. I had to move before the market crashed because paying for my childhood home would have cost me close to half a million dollars. The thought was outrageous. I've been gone 12 years, but I'm still here every day.

Jacqui would not have been able to buy in the 5th Ward without that market crash, and considers herself to have "lucked up." We're concerned that people of color are being priced out of the neighborhood. It's really sad to see. We know change is inevitable, but the diversity we sell to others to come to Evanston will be gone if we don't all fight for one another.

For people of color in general, there is this non-stop pressure to prove yourself. We are more educated, wealthier, and more accepted than our grandparents in society, but for some reason it feels like the mission to be great is harder to accomplish.

We don't know the educational background of our grandparents, but they were definitely smarter than us. They owned property, had a natural entrepreneurial spirit, and did things we could only imagine doing.

Jacqui's grandmother had her own laundry business of sorts. She would receive clean clothes from white families from all over the north shore. She would iron them, put them in fresh plastic dry-cleaner bags, and then pack the family into the car and deliver them back to Wilmette, Kenilworth, Glencoe, Lincolnwood, and even Evanston.

When we were trying to get a start up loan, the banker said, "It's not like the old days where you'd sign, shake hands, and make a promise to make a business work."

This kind of red tape may be a universal problem, but we are fighting to just exist positively within our community, or we have to choose to walk away. We don't want that. We have to put in the fight for our home base.

DE: How do you plan to raise money for this project?

TW: We want this to be a grassroots effort from all of our friends, loved ones, supporters throughout Evanston, and beyond.

We want to create "Capital Teams." We need 200 teams or more, and each team would raise $1,000.

If I can raise or donate $1,000 on my own, then I can be my own "team."

If I can only contribute $500, then I'll find another friend who can raise another $500; or two friends who can donate $250 each.

In the end, each of us is a Capital Team. The team can be as many as you need to get to the goal of $1,000. This means everyone can contribute to jump-starting a community that has always been strong, while also helping a "start up" with limited resources at the banks.

We eventually want to pay if forward, pay it back, and be a support to the next dreamer in the community. We know it's possible, but we'll definitely need teamwork to make this dream work because we're only so strong alone.

DE: What do you love about being an Evanston detective?

TW: I love that this is my community. I wouldn't want to do this in any other community, because I have roots here. People from all over Evanston either know me or someone from my family.

I am here to protect the community, but the fact is they have actually protected me for 20 years in this job. They've shown me respect, demanded respect from others on my behalf in tough situations, and made sure I succeeded. They make sure to let me know often that they are proud.

I love the people the most. Jacqui is also a police officer and works in Lake County. She has a different set of circumstances in Lake County in terms of the demographics and expectations in the community she works in. She's the first and only African-American to ever work for her department, but she brings her ability to relate and communicate as only a true Evanstonian can. She credits her upbringing in Evanston as an advantage to her job because of the diversity within our community.

DE: What’s the hardest part of your job?

TW: I think I speak for both of us when I say that death is the hardest part of our jobs. Trying to be consoling to grieving families is a tough assignment. Being a detective in Evanston makes it a little harder because I'm so close to so many families that I then become part of the grieving family myself.

Overall the job is rewarding, but we want to serve our community beyond the badge, for years to come.


Thanks to Allie Payne for contributing to this piece.

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