Swamplot Street Sleuths: Parking Lot Special

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  • Inner Loop: Just one question for y’all to answer this week. Take it away, reader: “What’s up with all of the recent hand car washes that have cropped up in the inner loop ? Aqua Car Wash has the lot on the 2300 block of West Dallas, there is another at Shepherd and Farnham (right near Tru Meals), as well as South Beach Car Wash at 126 West Gray [pictured above], and Soap on the 3700 block of Richmond. Can you explain this recent trend?” Yeah, what is it, an epidemic of machine-impervious auto grime, or what?

Photo: South Beach Auto Spa

18 Comment

  • Don’t forget the one on S. Shepherd next to Kenneally’s.

  • My guess is it has something to do with all the BMW’s, Mercedes, Lexuses, and Hummers that need washing. How is one to stand out if you are driving a dirty Lexus?

  • My first guess was there was some late night infomercial on how to make a quick buck with the latest business idea…

  • Low barriers to entry and some perceived unsatisfied demand. Classic start to oversaturation of a market.

  • There’s also one on Memorial, between Westcott and Detering. It is in a bad location, in a dumpy building, with employees of questionable legal status. If it lasts more than a few months, I’ll be shocked.

  • There’s another South Beach on Shepherd just north of Washington. I suspect the evening parking business does better than the carwash, though. While its not inside the loop, the carwash at Sage and San Felipe boggles my mind as they toredown and built that carwash on that prime corner. Perhaps its a front for something else.

  • I’ve been asking myself the same question. a new one opened at the corner of Taft and West Dallas about a month ago. This is right down the road from the proposed Aqua on Dallas/Montrose and very close to the South Beach on Gray. (It’s in the old Pilgrim Cleaner’s building, whih I think used to be a gas station.)

  • Is a car wash a good business through which to launder money?

  • @justguessin, do you know what neighborhood is behind the sage car wash? they don’t wash their own anything

  • My guess is they’ve found a market, but it’s either a) far cheaper/easier/temporary to pay minimum wage than to invest in a mechanical carwash with all the infrastructure needed, and/or b) maybe you don’t need to meet City code to allow water from a handwashed car to run into the stormdrain (although this is illegal), but you sure need permits to drain all that pollution from a mechanical wash system. Anyone know the logistics?

  • There are two main reasons.

    1. They are extremely cheap to set up and operate. So they are a great short-term use for an empty lot as a bridge between development. A lot of builders / developers / speculators paid way too much for land during the end of the boom and they are either carrying that land with little or no revenue coming in from it–or they’ve given back to banks who were silly enough to lend money on it when it didn’t generate enough cashflow to support the loan.

    2. They make MONEY. Splash on Richmond used to have a line down the street every sunny day when they were $15 for a basic hand wash. Even 50 cars a day was $750/day–cash–with almost no overhead. The main problem were the illegals working for $5/hr cash + tips who would often “accidentally” clean out your ashtray or your console, pocketing cash, change, or other valuables.

    I say more power to ’em. Hand car washes are a fairly low impact business that provide a useful service with minimal waste and minimal energy use. Water is plentiful in Houston, as is cheap labor. I’d rather have another hand car wash on that vacant corner than another BANK, or another CVS, or another GAS STATION. And as they proliferate, prices should drop as competition gets stiffer.

  • @ jared,

    last time I checked employees of CVS, banks and gas stations pay taxes which in my book is a good thing. Agree w/ your first point of interim use.

  • Fairly innocuous really; and they are in the midst of improving that Memorial location, the old hunan restaurant is the real eye sore (heh used to Marvin Zindler’s favorite)– the old pink interior was atrocious though, believe it moved to durham and i10. Really blah Chinese though..

  • justguessin’s comment piqued my interest:
    “the carwash at Sage and San Felipe boggles my mind as they toredown and built that carwash on that prime corner. Perhaps its a front for something else.”
    Are Happy Endings on their menu of services?

  • I was thinking the same few weeks ago when it was raining. I have not used a car wash in at least 4 years, and my car is pretty clean from inside. Outback likes to be dirty on the outside with all the biking & kayking gear ;)

  • crowner, I do know the neighborhood, but it seems that crowd might want that type of business and the traffic it would attract a bit further away from home. The jewelry store that was there seemed to be a more suitable tenant.

    I have a coworker who has an “unlimited” monthly pass at Bubbles which baffles me. How often do you have to wash a car every month to justify that? I could barely remember to stop by once a month.

  • Some of them are a very efficient use of land. Splash (on Shepherd) washes cars by day and serves as Kenneally’s parking by night. Win-win.

    Mr. Car Wash on Kirby was fine back in the day for my Honda, but I’m happy to spend an extra buck or two for the extra TLC of a hand wash for my Mercedes.

  • Parking lots are categorically not a “very efficient use of land”. Daylighting as a different, even more superfluous car service establishment makes the lot, at best, less inefficient. “Very efficient” is still an enormous stretch.