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St. Pete car wash gets special permission to serve essential workers

Margie Manning

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Woodie's Wash Shack at 5601 N. 66th St. in St. Petersburg won approval to open to provide vehicle sanitization services for essential workers in Pinellas County.

After being shut down for nearly a month, Woodie’s Wash Shack, an express car wash in St. Petersburg, has received special approval to open as a sanitization facility for essential workers’ vehicles.

Don Phillips, founder and managing director of Woodie’s Wash Shack

The car wash, at 5601 66th St. N., re-opened Tuesday, after getting the go-ahead from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office, said Don Phillips, founder and managing director of Woodie’s.

Phillips also is managing director of Phillips Development & Realty in Tampa, the developer of Sur Club, a mixed-use development under construction in the Skyway Marina District.

Car washes were not included in the list of essential businesses developed by Pinellas County after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order that took effect earlier this month. The order imposed restrictions designed to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Woodie’s shut down on April 3, the day the order took effect, and Phillips began work immediately to re-open the facility.

“I met with the sheriff Saturday morning and went through the process and he gave us the go-ahead then. We didn’t feel like we were ready and as you can see we’ve been extensively training our people on the process. We want to do it right,” Phillips said.

Don Phillips, founder and managing director of Woodie’s Wash Shack, greets a customer.

He said he incurred about $55,000 in direct costs, including buying equipment and disinfectants for sanitization from medical suppliers.

“All of the chemicals and processes we are using are EPA certified and we obtained them from medical suppliers,” Phillips said. “Both the equipment and the chemicals we are using are also used to sanitize EMS vehicles and operating rooms.”

Customers driving in for a wash are asked a series of questions, which Phillips said are for the safety of the Woodie’s crew: Have you been diagnosed with Covid-19? Have you knowingly been in contact with anyone who’s been diagnosed? Have you been outside the country in the last 14 days?

Customers also have to affirm they are essential workers. Woodie’s collects the information so the sheriff’s department can audit it.

Vehicles are treated with disinfecting agents both outside and inside.

“All surfaces can carry the virus. It can stay on the surface for a long time,” said Dr. Frank Hurd, a St. Petersburg optometrist who was getting his car sanitized Wednesday. “It’s good to know at least my vehicle is sanitized so I’m not carrying something into my office to my patients.”

One of several sanitization stations

Woodie’s operates on a membership basis and is offering sanitization services free for members who are essential workers. Non-members who are essential workers pay $45, which includes a $30 car wash. The charge offsets the cost of the equipment and supplies purchased, Phillips said.

“We’re not really making any money during this period. It costs me far more to operate this on a limited basis, but it’s good to give our people something to do,” he said.

About 130 customers came through Tuesday and Phillips expects that number to grow.

“We think this benefits everyone, including our competitors in the express wash business. The express wash business in and of itself I believe is essential. It’s a low personal interaction business,” Phillips said. “Providing sanitation to the interior of the car I think is here to stay forever. I think this has changed what we think, the same way 9-11 changed the way we think. People are a lot more conscious about surface contamination and transmission. This is going to be a service that’s going to be around for a long time.”

Woodie’s has nine other facilities in development, including one in the Skyway Marina District and one in Union Central.

A worker sanitizes a customer’s vehicle.

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