Locust council debates viability of two car wash businesses

Published 11:29 am Friday, November 12, 2021

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The Locust City Council found itself facing a bit of a dilemma during the Nov. 4 council meeting after two similar companies presented plans regarding designs to move into the town.

Tiki Express Car Wash, which would be owned by three partners including two who have owned and operated car washes in the state, talked to council about their plan to open a location off James Avenue adjacent to the proposed Burger King. The business would feature an automatic portion along with a la carte options (a variety of cleaners and towels) for customers to clean their own vehicles. Tiki Express would hire around 15 people, including four full-time staff.

Another business seeking to move to Locust, ModWash Car Wash, also presented its plans for a self-service car wash that would be in the Walmart plaza. A much bigger presence than Tiki Express, ModWash already has 24 locations, including seven throughout North Carolina, and has 154 additional locations in development across several states. ModWash would have 12 full-time employees.

Though they were impressed with both company’s presentations, the problem the council wrestled with as they were debating whether to approve the conditional rezoning requests was whether two more car washes could be viable within a city like Locust, which has about 24,000 vehicles pass through along N.C. Highway 24-27 each day.

“To me, in some ways it’s kind of a toss-up,” said Councilman Harry Fletcher, who discussed specific pros and cons with approving requests for both businesses.

Michael Rushing, an Oakboro native and one of the partners with Tiki Express, said that two car washes would not be able to survive right now in Locust. His partner Stephen Umstead described Tiki as a “mom and pop operation” compared to the much bigger ModWash franchise, which he referred to as a “Goliath.” The Tiki operation would need about 300 cars per day to break even. The Tiki Express partners told council they would back out if both conditional rezoning requests were approved.

As they were discussing what to do, City Administrator Cesar Correa told council that if they were to decline a rezoning request, the property would have to wait a year before submitting another request.

After much back and forth, the council members determined they were not knowledgeable enough about the car wash industry to choose one business over the other and so both conditional rezoning requests were approved.

After the meeting, the partners with Tiki Express confirmed to The Stanly News & Press that since both requests were approved, they would back down and not pursue the business in Locust.

“This is a pretty big blow,” Umstead said. “We wanted to be here in this community and we think highly of the community and thought it would work out well. But we can tell with almost 100 percent certainty that you can’t have two car washes right now.”

The council also approved a third conditional rezoning request for Jeremiah’s Italian Ice, which plans to open off James Avenue beside Murphy’s Oil early next summer. The business, which has 57 locations across the country, offers more than 40 flavors of Italian ice along with soft ice cream and gelato.

About $1 million will be invested into the business, according to franchisee Van Spears, and roughly four full-time and 25 part-time employees would be hired. The 1,500-square-foot location would feature approximately 18 parking spots, a drive-through lane and outdoor seating.

The next regular council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 9.


About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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