BRADENTON – Burglars stole change and partially burned a Manatee Avenue laundromat early Friday morning, shutting down the 50-year-old business during its busiest season.
At about 6 a.m. Friday, firefighters from West Manatee Fire and Rescue responded to a call at Fairway Landry at 5243 Manatee Ave. W. When they arrived, they found a number of clothes driers and other machinery in flames.
Jim Davis, a deputy fire marshal with the fire service, said firefighters quickly doused the flames. But what they found when the smoke cleared shocked him.
“I was kind of surprised when the first-in officer told me that several of the machines had been broken into,” Davis said.
According to Fairway Laundry owners Bill and Laurie Parker, burglars stole about $100 in change from laundry machines. They would have gotten more but for the fact that Bill Parker took most of the change with him when the laundromat closed the night before at 9 p.m.
By mid-morning, investigators had found four points of origin for the fires.Most of the flames were contained to the insides of the machines, although a fire in a back room did some structural damage. Paper in the laundromat was likely the fuel for the fire.
“Fortunately they didn’t know what they were doing,” Davis said of the suspected arsonists.
The Porters have owned and operated Fairway Laundry since 1989. Prior to that, Bill Parker’s mother owned the business.
“His mom used to wash his diapers there,” said Laurie Parker.
Porter was in tears Friday morning as she surveyed the damage to the estimated $30,000 in equipment in the laundromat.
“This is our busiest time of the year,” she said. “It’s season.”
Part-time residents living in nearby trailer home parks and apartments are the bulk of the laundromat’s clientele, along with nearby permanent residents. The Parkers also do commercial laundry work. Doctors’ offices are their primary clients.
The fire and burglary come just as the laundromat was to undergo some renovation and structural work. The business is a member of the business condominium association that operates the Fairway Center in West Bradenton. Parker said she already had permits ready to go for the work.
She said she needs to get the laundromat operating as soon as possible, both for her customers and for the business’ two employees.
“We need some income because we need to pay bills,” she said.
Fairway Laundry is insured, but Parker couldn’t say to what extent.
The fire investigation is being headed by the state fire marshal’s office. The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is assisting with the criminal investigation.
Investigators do not believe any accellerant, such as gasoline, was used.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 914-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.