Monday, December 6, 2021
Home > CANADA > Egan: Tops Car Wash sold, a family polishes its 50-year-old race

Egan: Tops Car Wash sold, a family polishes its 50-year-old race

Egan: Tops Car Wash sold, a family polishes its 50-year-old race

“I’m totally at peace with the decision if it makes sense. I think it’s the right decision for us.”

Article content

We are tucked away in a quiet, shady corner by Tops Car Wash, a landmark on Richmond Road, growing nostalgic on a glorious September morning.

Advertising

Article content

Owner Keith Henry, 56, leans against his gray F-150 — which no surprise is very, very clean — and talks about locking the doors for the last time.

Since October 1971, someone named Keith Henry — first the father, now 91, then the only full-service son-powered car wash on this old stretch of road, just west of Woodroffe. But on Monday, after 50 years, the sale closed, giving ownership to the car dealer next door.

“It seems bittersweet,” Henry said Monday. “I am completely at peace with the decision, if it makes sense. I think that’s the right decision for us. ”

Ottawa Honda’s Vik Dilawri buys car wash and intends to keep it in operation with the same managers. But given that Dilawri also owns Tim Horton’s land to the west, and that an LRT stop (New Orchard) is under construction a short hop away, it’s easy to speculate that remodeling will eventually happen.

Advertising

Article content

“It’s probably the most famous car wash in Ottawa,” Dilawri said. “As for the near future, we want to run it as it is. Keith and his family have done an excellent job. ”

Keith Jr., has been running things for more than 30 years. Not only are there many seasonal ups and downs in car washing, but the pandemic has hit the business for 18 months and it looks like the entire industry model is changing. Nor is there a family member in the succession.

So the timing was right.

The good news for employees (30 or so at the top) is that they want to keep their jobs. But the sad news is that another local business brand that is family-owned and operated may be on a shaky ground.

“My dad thought if this place was open, one of us should be here,” said Keith, who first started at Tops as a teenager.

Advertising

Article content

(The Ottawa antiquities remember the first sign from the original store – opened in 1967 – contained a kind of peanut figure of plants lying on a block tilting a top hat. It was a “top of the world” image that confused many.)

Over the years, of course, there have been plenty of upgrades, and now optical sensors and computers have turned the mechanical wash into a high-tech marvel — the device actually “measures” every vehicle — though still with a touch of the old style.

As residents leave the vehicles, many a child has followed a parent’s car from a covered corridor as it passes through magical arches of water and soap and rotating brushes, drawn along a track — a Willy Wonka wood with foam.

Tops found a niche among those who were willing to pay extra to have their vehicles hand-dried and the interior vacuumed and cleaned. Today, it has four exit bays where workers jump into doorways with powerful vacuum cleaners working at hectic speeds.

Advertising

Article content

In the old days, they drove maybe 600 or more cars a day. Now it can be 300. One of the biggest differences? The interior of vehicles takes so much longer to clean, what with their cup holders and consoles and giant screens and door pockets and razor blades thin blankets.

A recent industry trend, Henry explained, is for a mechanical wash, then the provision of an equipped bay where the owner does the interior himself. But it takes up an acre of space, not a luxury Tops enjoys, not a model they have pursued.

Winters can be good (salty), but winters can be bad (snow). People typically do not get car wash in bad weather.

“And do you know what’s really weird? People do not wash their cars after dark, ”said Henry, pointing to one of the many whims in the trade. (So ​​they close at 5pm)

Advertising

Article content

There is, of course, a psychology attached to washing your car. “The reason people say in surveys is because it actually makes them feel better,” Henry said. “It has nothing to do with the car.”

Keith Henry, who has been in the business long enough to know, says many people wash their cars because it makes them feel better.
Keith Henry, who has been in the business long enough to know, says many people wash their cars because it makes them feel better. Photo by Ashley Fraser /Postmedia

COVID-19 has complicated things. There were periods in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic when the operation completely closed. The interior corridor and waiting room are now closed, with clients walking around the building waiting outside.

And staffing has been an issue. Like many small businesses, some workers spread when the pandemic hit.

His father used to love chatting with customers, Keith said. “The old ladies just loved him,” and the inside of the store could be like an old-fashioned barbershop or post office where local gossip was exchanged.

It was that time. “The last two years have been very strange.” The messy truth right there – wash it, polish it, hang it on the wall.

To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-291-6265 or email [email protected]

Twitter.com/kellyegancolumn

Advertising

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourages all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments can take up to an hour to appear on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications – you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, which is an update of a comment thread you follow, or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on adjusting your email settings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *