"My father taught us how to make a hustle," Kelly says. Credit: Danielle A. Scruggs

Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week’s Chicagoan is the owner of Good News Laundry (817 Noyes, Evanston), Jeffrey Kelly.

I ’ve owned this laundromat 14 years. The joy is the people. If I was working a regular job, I could only have a short minute of time to spend with people. Where in the laundromat, I know I have their audience for at least an hour. And with an hour, there’s so much information that’s being transferred. My favorite part of the day is customers that are willing to talk.

“Now that’s something that I got from my father. There’s nine of us. My father used to take us to downtown Chicago, and he would randomly pick out any individual and say to us, ‘Just walk up and say, ‘Hello.’ Just, ‘Greetings.’ And from there he’d have us have a conversation about where they’re from, their name, what they do for a living. As I got older, I was the one that always would have to go last. Because when I talk with people, we can go all day long.

“My father taught us how to make a hustle. We used to stand outside a grocery store with a red wagon, waiting for people to ask us to deliver their groceries, and written on the side of the wagon was r.a.w: ready, able, willing. He wouldn’t allow us to deliver papers or shine shoes. Everything was based on: Work for yourself, if you’re going to work. Be an entrepreneur. Have a business. Know what is fair. Be the best at it.

“Waking up—that is the hardest part of my day. Because at the end of my day, I’ll be at home in bed anywhere between 2 and 4 AM. I live in Dolton. That’s an hour away. It’s easier to wait until traffic is completely gone and I can get home in 40 minutes. I can stay here, do a little work, do a little maintenance, do some paperwork, think of different ideas, anything.

“My daughter, right now she’s in Abu Dhabi teaching English. Her and my granddaughter’s over there. Assimilating yourself in that environment and being a woman, wow—you have to be very, very mindful. But I know they’re having fun because they haven’t called me but once. Do I miss them? When you feel a part of you missing, you know it’s not there, you can’t touch it when you want to. But knowing that they’re doing what they want, that’s the joy. So the missing, it’s compensated.

“Oh, my granddaughter’s awesome. She’s ten years old. She has that spirit for entrepreneurship and people no matter where she’s at. She calls us improvisers, ’cause no matter what we start our day off doing, we wind off doing something completely different, but still having fun.

“Say she wants to sell lemonade in front of the laundromat, and I tell her, ‘No, we have to have a license before we can sell something on the sidewalk.’ So her, in her quickness of mind, she says, ‘OK, well, I can draw some pictures of lemonade, and people can come inside and buy the lemonade out of your machine.’ I said, ‘Wow, that was quick.’ It just flows right out. Her talent goes beyond.”  v