Of late, reports on reopening the economy is taking up as much airtime and as many column inches, if not more, than the Coronavirus pandemic itself. In many areas the issue is being forced by individuals who are eager to get back to work or are simply running out of patience with the lockdown. Even some businesses — a hair salon here, a restaurant there, and, famously, an auto plant in California — opted to flout local restrictions and resume their activities with varying results.
Initially, restrictions were applied in patchwork fashion. When the rules were first imposed in Texas, for example, overlapping jurisdictions created some confusion. In Plano in Collin County, full-service car washes could remain open, while in neighboring Dallas and Denton counties they could not. A further complication was cities that straddle county lines. Dallas and Richardson, for example, fall within the boundaries of both Collin and Denton Counties. In Ohio, conflicting county interpretations of what constitutes an “essential business,” necessitated the creation of a Dispute Resolution Commission.
A majority of states have now started to relax some of the restrictions, but, again, they are being eased on an area-by-area basis. In Wisconsin restaurant dining rooms in Milwaukee remain closed, while down the road a bit in Waukesha you can go out and enjoy a sit-down dinner. In Ohio, you can take your dog to a pet groomer, across the state line in Michigan, you cannot. Even hard-hit New York is easing some restrictions, but mostly in areas well north of Manhattan.
Car wash operators’ lockdown experiences run the gamut from closure to limited services to business as usual with some added precautions. Among those that never stopped washing is Benny’s in Louisiana, albeit with a few adjustments including the use of personal protection equipment, social distancing, and treating auto interiors with a disinfectant fog.
California Hand Wash in Johns Creek, GA was one of the first to reopen after a temporary closure. Catering to a high-end clientele, this full-service wash paid all its employees while closed. The wash reopened with a rearranged waiting area to comply with social distancing guidelines, even marking Xs at six-foot intervals along the viewing hallway to help guide customers.
In Washington State, Seattle-based Brown Bear Car Wash reopened its 51 locations on May 7, likewise having kept over 350 employees on the payroll during the six-week closure. In accordance with phase one of the state’s reopening of the economy, which includes a 22-point prescription for car-wash-specific safety practices, Brown Bear has implemented enhanced sanitation procedures. Even before the closure, though, the chain was minimizing cash transactions at its locations.
David Delrahim, owner of 20 car washes in California is another operator who chose to keep paying his 300 employees while they were laid off. Though not legally required to shutter his entire operation, Delrahim decided nevertheless to do so in the best interest of his employees and customers. In mid-May he reopened his full-service locations with an added service: an application of an interior disinfecting fog after every full-service wash — at no additional cost.
Two weeks prior to the easing of restrictions in Arizona, I ventured out to my favorite express wash. It was a Saturday afternoon, perfect car wash weather. The wash was busy. As in the past, there was an attendant at the pay station and another guiding cars onto the conveyor while also handing out air fresheners and dash wipes. All vacuum slots were accessible. Employee masks and gloves were the only evident deference to COVID-19.
Getting back to business is going to look different from town to town, even from car wash to car wash. If there are any doubts about safety practices to follow, best err on the side of caution.