SEATTLE – An iconic family-owned laundry in Seattle’s Belltown is closing.

The family that owns A-1 Laundry, at 2401 First Avenue, has decided to sell the building. It’s unclear what new businesses will go into the location, but the outside of The Hull Building, built in 1889 and designated historic, will remain the same.

“I’m going on 70-years-old. I think it’s time for me,” said Chris Eng, part of the family that’s owned the business since 1958. “The industry has changed quite a bit and it’s a little tougher as a small business to exist.”

The business’ roots run even deeper than the 58 years it’s been in the Eng family. His great uncle initially started the laundry business in Seattle.

It originated in the 1930s and was first Stewart Street Laundry then Quon’s Laundry. A family history printed in a trade magazine more than two decades ago said Lee Quon started it when he came from China with little understanding of the English language. He used his bicycle to delivery laundry.

The business moved to Belltown and Chris Eng’s father, Albert, bought it in July 1958.

“The white shirt business was big back then. A different time. People don’t wear that formal dress anymore,” Chris remembered. “We started in this one little storefront on this side and as we got bigger we started moving over to the left until we took the whole building and the basement.”

At one point there were as many as 60 employees laundering more than 20,000 shirts each week. Al and Emma Eng’s daughters, Alison and Barbara, eventually ran the office of A-1 Laundry.

“People used to call it Al’s Laundry,” Chris said as he laughed, describing the sign outside. “[Dad] wanted to be first in the phone book I believe. That was his motive.”

Throughout the years people like Alana Robey have walked through the doors each day for work.

“I’ve been here honestly half my life,” Alana told KING 5. “I was 24 when I started…24 years [ago].”

She said most of those who work here have worked at A-1 a long time like she has.

“It feels like home. I’ve worked pretty much with the same base of people,” she said. “In the summertime, we have our A-1 parties. The staff in the office will hang out and hit some of the bars and restaurants because we know some of those people are customers. So it’s nice to go seem them at their places of work too.”

People might recognize A-1 because of the cats they’ve seen in the window. The latest, an adopted cat named Toby Tobias, came here from the humane society about five and a half years ago.

Toby Tobias has been a fixture of the Belltown business for more than five years. (Photo: KING / Josh Green)
Toby Tobias has been a fixture of the Belltown business for more than five years. (Photo: KING / Josh Green)

“We had people who would come in and they weren’t customers. They just passed by all the time and knew Toby because he’d hang out in the window,” Alana said.

The staff would keep the Christmas tree up, often decorated in Seahawks gear or something similar. It was because Toby liked it there.

“He loved the Christmas tree. He’d hang out under the Christmas tree,” Alana said. “People would walk up to the window with dogs. He likes dogs. So they’d come up to the window with their dogs and Toby would rub his head up against the window and people are like – ‘Oh he’s so cute’ and take pictures of him. It was like all the time.”

Toby has already made the move from A-1. He lives with Alana now. He has his own Facebook page.

“Of course, it’s a landmark. It’s the quintessential building in Seattle. It’s been here forever,” said Heidi Charleson, a Queen Anne resident who’s been coming here for years. “Toby’s here to greet me. It very much reminds us of Seattle even 20 years ago.”