King Street Laundry, located on 72 King Street in Burlington, Vermont, is a laundromat with a mission to “foster community around equal access to the dignity of clean clothes,” says co-owner Andrew Christiansen. “That’s kind of our guiding light, our North Star, so to speak.”
What that entails is free laundry services for the unhoused population on Wednesdays, between one and three in the afternoon, and events such as job fairs, community art events, and educational workshops to uplift the local community. It’s a surprisingly lofty mission for a local laundromat, but it’s exactly what attracted Professor Barrie Silver to partner with the business for her MKT 270: Integrated Marketing Communications class.
Former owners and iterations of the business have struggled, especially during Covid. One day in the spring of 2022, Andrew called King Street Laundry to inquire about buying a machine from the business’s previous owner. Instead, he and his wife Hannah Christiansen bought the whole laundromat.
“I said, ‘If we’re going to purchase this and make a go of a laundromat, we have to do it in a different way.” And that’s just what they did, starting by installing cameras, changing the hours, eliminating the need for quarters with an online payment system, and—most importantly—amplifying their new mission statement.
Throughout the fall 2023 semester, four of Professor Silver’s students chose to work with Andrew and Hannah—the other five working with Continuing ThrED—to build a marketing campaign that would help broaden their business’s reach and impact in the local Burlington community.
Professor Silver met the Christiansens at a Stiller Women in Business event—where local businesses could network with Champlain students and faculty—which kickstarted their collaboration. Silver attended the event as a representative for the Marketing program, and the Christiansens were hoping to find some assistance in promoting their budding business. Professor Silver values business as a tool for social good, so she was more than happy to work with them. “I just got really excited about what they were doing and what they were hoping to do even more of, and I thought that there would be a great opportunity for our students to support their work and efforts,” she says.
When approached about working with Professor Silver’s class, Hannah said, “Yes, let’s connect with Champlain College and see if we can learn from them and their expertise and get some useful perspective on how to make this place a vibrant community hub.”
Students Get Their Hands Dirty
Given the business’s mission and the opportunity to work with real clients (with real skin in the game), Silver’s students were just as ready to work with the Christiansens as she was. “Immediately, I was excited to work with King Street Laundry,” says Communication student Kali Feehan ’25. “I really connected with the rebuilding message that they had,” adds one of her project partners, Marketing student Tori Long ’24.
Feehan and Long’s group was tasked with doing research about the business, getting to know the owners, and diving into the many aspects of creating a marketing campaign. “Between the four of us, we had marketing, PR, and graphic design skills. So, I feel like that simulated a real working environment.” They came up with ideas for events, helped with a website design overhaul, suggested the implementation of public Wi-Fi, and developed ideas for advertisements and promotions to reach the business’s target audience—all of which has been implemented by King Street Laundry.
Ultimately, Silver’s students found the class rewarding and uplifting as they leveraged their personal skill sets for a special opportunity to create a finished product they could be proud of. “We’re able to do a project that fits our own niches. And working with King Street Laundry, I would say was definitely a huge highlight of this class and my favorite part,” says Long. “It’s cool to be able to have that niche. Not a lot of people are going to be able to say, ‘I worked with a laundromat in my marketing class.’”
A Cycle of Commitment
This unique experience is commonplace for Champlain students, who are afforded many opportunities for hands-on, real-world opportunities as part of their classwork. And it’s intentional—our faculty know it’s what helps Champlain students stand out from the crowd. By connecting them to local businesses, professors put students on the map. The owners of King Street Laundry recognized the passion in the students they worked with. Hannah said, “It’s obvious that people were committed to this idea and truly wanted to help. It was not a box-checking undertaking. It seemed like there was a true connection.” It goes to show that local businesses recognize how strongly Champlain students are dedicated to their projects and their areas of study.
For many college students, gaining skills and professional experience is a real currency—and for Champlain students, it’s one that comes with a special bonus of being able to give back to the community and local businesses like King Street Laundry. In Burlington, the community appreciates the effort, interest, and drive that Champlain students display. In fact, it’s partly what drew Professor Silver to teach at the college in the first place. During her time working for a nonprofit, Professor Silver noticed that Champlain students were prepared and skilled. She respected the environment that encouraged that kind of community collaboration. “So, I’ve seen as a professional and as an instructor how much knowledge they already have to share—and they’re still learning and evolving and growing as students.”
Through our personable and encouraging professors, to our thoughtful and creative students, Champlain is able to have lasting relationships with local businesses, nonprofits, and Burlington as a whole. It’s as Andrew said in his interview: “The fact that we’re sitting in this room having this conversation is a testament to Champlain’s willingness to help the community and engage with local businesses. I mean, the fact that we’re here—that to me is Exhibit A.”
Champlain not only has a great community for students and faculty, it has one that includes the greater Burlington community, as well. As Long put it, “I feel like a lot of our community is connected to a lot of local businesses through jobs. I’ve worked with a few different local companies, and they always appreciate Champlain students just because our students are different, they’re more prepared when they’re going into something like this. It genuinely does reflect on how communication goes between both students and local businesses.”
And while the achievements and connections that are formed both in and out of the classroom are astounding, it’s the commitment shown by students that makes those relationships really last. Long, too, believes in the power that Champlain students have in the community: “Overall we have a pretty positive impact, not only are we helping them with pro bono work, but they also gain consumers who are passionate about what they’re doing…creating that relationship business wise for potential future jobs, but also for an expanded consumer base.” Thus, a working symbiotic relationship develops between Champlain and the local community, as students gain valuable experience while supporting small businesses like King Street Laundry.