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Clean Machines 

A trip to Uptown Car Wash (5500 Tchoupitoulas St., 895-9700) is more than just running your car through a series of cleaning tools on a conveyor belt. It's also an opportunity to lounge with magazines and gourmet coffee, shop for gifts and allow your child to play in a safe environment, all while someone else makes your automobile run well and sparkle inside and out.

A group of investors who were raised in the area opened Uptown Car Wash two years ago to provide a host of services not available in the immediate area, in a comfortable, convenient and upscale setting. In addition to car washes and waxing services, customers also can have their carpet and seats cleaned and Scotch Guarded, the oil changed, new windshield wipers installed, their battery and transmission serviced or differential and radiator fluids changed. The business also rents U-Haul vehicles for moving households and hopes to add gasoline pumps in the future, says Managing Partner Doug Kohnke.

"All of the owners grew up Uptown, we know the people, we know what they want and we try to give it to them," he says. U-Haul rentals were added, for instance, after a man who had rented them in the area for a long time died and customers had to travel to Mid-City to rent such vehicles. The car wash's Texaco X-Press Lube offers 30-minute oil, radiator and transmission service plus a free car wash. The business also can take care of minor dings and other problems.

"We try to do anything we can do (to service a car) without taking things apart," Kohnke says. "We do maintenance things mostly. Customers also want to be able to buy gas while they're here, and we're trying to bring that to them."

To make the service wait enjoyable, the owners offer a range of magazines for sale, gourmet coffee, soft drinks, snacks and a large area of chairs and tables. There also is a special sound-insulated playroom with puzzles, games and toys for the young ones and a couple of video games for older kids. The curious can watch cars go through a series of sudsing and rinsing streams, cloth-strip and soft-brush scrubbing mechanisms and a dryer, all from the comfort of the air-conditioned lobby.

"We designed ourselves to be very kid-friendly," Kohnke says. "When we built the place, I had a 1 1/2-year-old and we brought him in to measure the plate-glass windows" that look onto the conveyor-belt car wash. During the summer, the business served free sno-balls on Mondays, and it periodically brings in other diversions such as puppet shows and a space walk.

For those who prefer shopping over playing while they wait, there is a boutique that features music, books-on-tape, cell-phone accoutrements and all kinds of accessories for the car, from leopard-skin steering wheel and seatbelt strap covers to coin holders. Recently the owners even installed a section of other gifts, including aromatic candles.

In keeping with the nature of the city, all the car wash packages are named for Uptown streets, including the Tchoupitoulas, Magazine and St. Charles Avenue washes. Price start at $8 for a simple exterior wash, which includes having the car dried from bumper to bumper. Wash packages go up to $19.95 for the St. Charles, which includes a triple-coat polish, air freshener, under-body rust inhibitor, wheel brightener, clear-coat protectant/sealer, tire shine and, of course, a car wash.

Extra services, such as carpet and mat shampooing, tar removal, vinyl protectants and more, also are offered. A complete detail includes a full-service wash, chrome polishing, paint restoration, rubber and vinyl dressing, Scotch Guard, buff and wax, wheel detailing, and even a shampoo for the trunk and costs $149.95. As an added service to its customers, Uptown Car Wash also works with insurance companies to provide customers with windshield repairs on the spot and free of charge.

Regulars can purchase car wash books, in which the sixth wash is free, as well as annual passes that can save customers as much as 50 percent over buying the washes separately, Kohnke says.

Uptown Car Wash, located next to the Riverside Marketplace, already has a loyal following in the Uptown area, with regular customers including Anne Rice, Nicholas Payton and fleet cars for the Corps of Engineers, the police department, Tulane University and others. It also has its challenges, including the weather and the city's water system. Because of the high-pressure sprays needed to rinse cars and apply cleaning agents, water pressure is a must.

"It's a tough, tough business," says Kohnke, who also works in real estate. "It is dependent on friendly customer service, clear skies and other factors we have no control over. When the water main broke a few weeks ago, we were out of business for five days (because of low water pressure)." That meant the company had to turn away business -- an average of 200 cars a day. "I now care a lot about things I didn't think much about before," he says. "I now care about the weather -- and the Sewerage & Water Board."

click to enlarge Lucille Clark offers service with a smile at Uptown Car Wash, whether you're getting your automobile cleaned, renting a U-Haul or shopping for accessories.
  • Lucille Clark offers service with a smile at Uptown Car Wash, whether you're getting your automobile cleaned, renting a U-Haul or shopping for accessories.
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