Car wash businesses can now operate in Washington | Update

Brown Bear opens locations May 8

Car wash businesses can now open under a proclamation issued Thursday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Originally set to reopen Thursday, May 7 in conjunction with the Phase 1 reopening of the state’s economy, Brown Bear Car Wash was notified by state officials late Tuesday all car wash operations in the state would not be allowed to open until the state of Washington determined its safety standards for the car wash industry.

The state has now determined those safety standings for COVID-19, which businesses must meet to reopen. Brown Bear reopened for business on Friday, May 8.

“We began reaching out to customers about the reopening through social media and other channels at the beginning of this week,” said Lance Odermat, vice president, general counsel of family owned Car Wash Enterprises, Inc., in a Wednesday news release about the delay. “Needless to say, this is frustrating and we apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and confusion.”

Brown Bear is the largest car wash operator in the state with 51 tunnel wash and self-service locations.

“As with every business allowed under Phase 1, they are not supposed to open to the public until the state has issued guidance on health and safety practices for each industry,” said Mike Faulk, deputy communications director for Gov. Jay Inslee, in a Wednesday email. “That will hopefully be finalized this week.”

Car washes were among the businesses listed to resume operations starting May 5 in the initial phase of the state’s “Safe Start Washington” economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We recognize the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for us all, but there was a complete disconnect between the state’s closure directive of yesterday and their prior official communication for a May 5 reopening,” Odermat said.

During its six-week closure, Brown Bear has maintained its payroll of over 350 employees.

“Our incredible team members have been preparing for the reopening, including additional training for enhanced sanitation procedures exceeding CDC guidelines,” Odermat said. “We were all blindsided by the last-minute directive from the state.”

Odermat was told by a member of the governor’s staff Wednesday that the state’s specific guidance and safety criteria for the industry will require input from the state Department of Labor and Industries, Department of Health, and the governor’s office before car washes may reopen.

Odermat hopes Brown Bear can resume serving customers in the next few days, and the company will provide updates through its website and social media.

Brown Bear submitted a detailed, 12-page plan to the state on April 28 addressing enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures, employee health screenings, social distancing and other COVID-19 related initiatives, according to the news release. The company is a national leader in automated car wash services, which minimize cash transactions at all its locations. In addition, members of Brown Bear’s Unlimited Wash Club have their vehicles washed at tunnel locations with no exchange of cash or credit card.


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Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
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