Hank Aaron passed away at the age of 86 last week. He will go down in history as not only one of the greatest baseball players, but one of the greatest people of our generation. Hank Aaron has always had a special place in my heart as well. I figured now would be the right time to tell the story of how Hank Aaron helped save my Grandpa’s laundromat.
My grandpa (we call him Papi) opened his first laundromat “Papi’s Cleaners” in Indianapolis, Indiana back in the 1950’s. This was right when public laundromats really started to take off – he opened it at the perfect time. It was a huge moneymaker for him. So much so that he ended up selling his medical practice which he had for over a decade and opened a whole chain of laundromats. He ended up putting his 6 children all through college with his laundromat money and set up a hefty trust fund for his grandchildren (me). He was a big deal in the Midwest. He would frequently be invited to give lectures at the business schools of Indiana University, UIC, Ball State, etc.
In 1961, the first ever Laundry Convention was held in Cincinnati, Ohio. Being one of the most prominent laundrymen in the Midwest, Papi was invited to speak at the opening ceremonies. The convention was sponsored by Sears. Papi, however, did not like Sears. He had all of his machines manufactured at a nearby plant. It was nearly twice as expensive to do so, but he thought it was important for the economy to spend his money locally. He definitely had his reservations about speaking at a Sears convention, but in the end, Papi loved laundry. There would be thousands of young entrepreneurs there looking to break into the laundry business. He wanted to show them that if they worked hard and followed their dreams that they too could be successful laundrymen someday.
Sears on the other hand had a plan. They knew that Papi’s laundromats were a titan of the industry. Papi’s Cleaners was one of the few laundromats who didn’t use Sears as their main supplier. Sears was determined to change that.
Papi wasn’t stupid. He knew this was Sears plan the whole time. So, it was no surprise to him when some Sears executives invited him to their suite at the Reds game the night before the convention. Papi was a big baseball fan, and the Reds were playing the Braves that evening. He had been wanting to see Hank Aaron play for years. Despite how he felt about Sears, he accepted the invitation. It’s not like you get many chances to watch a professional baseball game in a company suite. At that baseball game, he met Milo for the first time. He had heard of Milo. Milo owned a chain of rainforest themed laundromats in Ohio. He didn’t have as many locations as Papi, but he was legitimate competition. Milo’s business was growing, and people loved the ambiance of his rainforest themed laundromats.
DISCLAIMER: This is the part of the story I don’t quite have all the details on, so bear with me please
At that baseball game, Sears wanted to make Papi a deal. As I understand it, they wanted Papi to make Sears the official supplier of Papi’s Cleaners. If Papi didn’t accept the deal, Sears was going to offer it to Milo’s Rainforest Laundromat. Papi HATED the idea of accepting a deal with Sears, but if Milo got the deal, it would allow him to keep his prices so low that it would eventually run Papi out of business. Papi had until the end of the convention to accept the deal, or else it was going to Milo.
During the game, Papi and Milo hit it off. Papi really liked Milo, and he couldn’t blame him for wanting to take the deal with Sears. After the game, they thanked Sears for the hospitality, and decided to go grab a drink at a local Cincinnati pub. At the pub, the two laundrymen split a quart of whisky. After being there for nearly 3 hours, they heard a commotion at the front of the bar. It was Hank Aaron. He had stopped in by himself for a drink. They were star struck. But then something extremely unfortunate happened. There were 2 other Reds fans in the bar, and they started giving Hank Aaron a hard time. They were furious that Hank Aaron hit 2 homers against them that night. Hank Aaron was outnumbered. The Reds fans stood up and started walking towards him. Without a second thought, Papi and Milo sprung into action. Papi smashed the empty quart of whisky over one guy’s head. Milo grabbed the other one by the seat of his pants and heaved him through the front window. Glass and blood flew everywhere, and the 2 Reds fans were knocked out cold.
Hank Aaron was incredibly thankful. He rarely went out after games, but someone had pulled the fire alarm at their hotel, so he was simply trying to kill some time before bed. Hank Aaron insisted on doing something for them in return. All they asked was that he sat down for a drink with them. The three sat along the bar as an ambulance came to scoop Reds fans off the floor. They got to talking and learned that Hank Aaron shared a love for laundry as well. His mother taught him to wash clothes by hand at a young age. He loved doing laundry to unwind. When traveling for away games, Hank Aaron would go as far as to bring an extra suitcase of dirty clothes so he would have something to do on off days. He had actually been to a Milo’s Rainforest Laundromat in Cleveland earlier that season. Papi and Milo told Hank Aaron of their current dilemma – that Sears was essentially going to put one of them out of business.
This made Hank Aaron furious. He said if Sears had it their way, clothes would wash themselves. By the end of their conversation, neither Papi nor Milo really wanted to accept the Sears deal. But they couldn’t just do nothing. There would always be another laundromat ready to accept the deal and put them both on their asses. They wanted to be BETTER than Sears. And what is the only thing better than Sears? An official endorsement from Hank Aaron.
That next morning at the opening ceremonies, Papi took the stand. He captivated the audience with tales from the mat. He told of washers, driers, clothing, and coins. He went over his allotted time to speak, and he saw some people from Sears signaling for him to wrap it up. Sears was unveiling a new diesel-powered drier that day, and they were getting anxious to do so. But before Papi gave his closing prayer, he announced that he wanted to introduce some special guests. He called Milo and HANK AARON up to the stand. The crowd went WILD. Dirty clothes flew everywhere. A mosh pit formed. People punched holes in the walls. I’m told it was a surreal scene. Three people were hospitalized afterwards.
Once the crowd settled down, Hank Aaron took the stand. He told the crowd about his history with laundry and made a few lighthearted jabs at the Reds. Then he made the announcement that Milo and Papi would be merging their laundromats, and Hank Aaron himself would be going into business with them! Sears was shook. The executives were furious. This was a turn of events that they never saw coming. The announcement would completely overshadow Sears new diesel technology.
At the end of the speech, Hank Aaron, Papi, and Milo led a prayer, recited the Laundrymen’s Creed, and announced for the first time the name of their new business: Hammerin’ Hanks Rainforest Laundromat.
Papi and Milo swiftly converted all of their locations into Hammerin’ Hank’s Rainforest Laundromats. Hammerin’ Hank’s Rainforest Laundromats became a huge hit across the Midwest throughout the 60’s & 70’s. My Papi always said that if it wasn’t for Hank Aaron walking into that bar in Cincinnati the night before the 1961 Laundry Convention, Sears would have ran him out right out of business.