Competitor comes to the rescue after Cloquet laundry's fire

In the wake of a fire on Feb. 21, Cloquet's Wood City Laundry probably would be all washed up were it not for the help from an unlikely benefactor. Gary Tyman, proprietor of Wood City Laundry, referred to AmeriPride Linen & Apparel Service, a...

Gary Tyman
Gary Tyman, owner of Wood City Laundry in Cloquet, carries a load of fresh carpets to put in place of soiled ones he picked up for cleaning during a run in downtown Duluth on Tuesday morning. Tyman's laundry business recently burned down. As he waits for an insurance settlement, AmeriPride, a national chain with operations in Duluth, has provided Tyman with inventory, trucks and services. (Bob King /

In the wake of a fire on Feb. 21, Cloquet's Wood City Laundry probably would be all washed up were it not for the help from an unlikely benefactor.

Gary Tyman, proprietor of Wood City Laundry, referred to AmeriPride Linen & Apparel Service, a national commercial laundry chain with operations in Duluth, as "one of our fiercest competitors," and yet this same business has come to the rescue in his hour of need.

A fire in the midst of a snowstorm that dropped more than a foot of snow on Cloquet burned Tyman's business to the ground.

"Twenty-five years' worth of work was reduced to a burning pile of rubble," Tyman said. The fire destroyed his building, and claimed all his commercial laundering equipment, including much of his inventory of rugs, mops, linens, uniforms and other items.

Desperate to keep their business afloat despite the devastating setback, Gary Tyman and his wife, Cindy, spent the first days after the fire washing, drying and folding items at a local coin-operated Laundromat then driving them to customers.


"When something of that magnitude happens, it's really a physical shock. We were just trying to cope," Cindy Tyman said.

"We were doing whatever we could just to sustain our business," Gary Tyman said.

In the midst of this madness, Tyman recalled a meeting several months before with Dave Hardy, general manager of AmeriPride's operations in Duluth, Hibbing and Bemidji. AmeriPride had expressed an interest in buying out Tyman's business. When he declined the offer to discuss a possible sale, the visit ended amiably with Hardy's admonition to let him know if he could ever be of service.

"On Friday afternoon, I gave Dave a call. I told him, we have no equipment, no building and no inventory," Tyman said.

Hardy didn't miss a beat. He told Tyman he'd do anything he could to help and asked him to stop by AmeriPride's Duluth service center Monday morning.

"I remember he told me: We cannot let your business close," Tyman said.

Hardy said his heart went out to Tyman. "It's a very unfortunate situation. He spent his whole life building that business."

"For us, it's all about serving our customers and the community," Hardy said.


Ben Saukko, a spokesman for AmeriPride, one of the largest commercial laundry companies in North America, said the business makes a practice of reaching out to competitors.

"One of the jobs of our regional general managers is to build relationships with other operators and competitors to ensure business continuity in crisis situations," he said, stressing the importance of developing contingency plans.

In 2010, AmeriPride had its own fire to contend with at its Duluth facility.

Hardy said he's confident that if anything similar occurred in the future and the shoe were ever on the other foot again, AmeriPride could rely on Wood City Laundry to lend it a hand.

AmeriPride provided the Tymans with a couple of trucks and drivers Monday morning, a ready inventory of clean linens plus sundry other items and continued help laundering the items it collects from its customer routes.

So far, Gary Tyman said Wood City hasn't lost any clients as a result of the fire. The laundry has about 300 accounts, small and large, including many longtime customers such as the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

"We've just been overwhelmed," he said. "You can't believe how gracious our customers and our competitors have been."

Cindy Tyman said she has been amazed at the level of support AmeriPride has provided.


"I don't think I can say enough. For a big company like that to work so hard to meet our needs is really something. They've bent over backwards for us," she said.

Gary Tyman said of Hardy: "In our eyes, he's an angel sent straight from heaven."

Tyman said he's still waiting to hear how much his business insurance will cover, but he's determined to put the laundry back on its feet. The company employs four people full-time, including the Tymans, and eight more on a part-time basis. He said no one has missed a paycheck yet as a result of the fire.

Meanwhile, AmeriPride employs 91 people at its facilities in Duluth, Hibbing and Bemidji. So far, Hardy said the company hasn't had to bring on any additional staff to handle the extra load from Wood City Laundry, although it has necessitated some overtime pay.

Still, Hardy said: "We're committed to help him as long as he needs."

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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