by Jerry Rothstein
Partners Jeff Harstad and Stephen Schumacher have rebuilt and reopened the historic car wash at Erie and Jefferson, adjacent to McDonald’s. Their business, The Car Wash Co., is now operating seven self-service locations around the Twin Cities, in West and South St. Paul, Maplewood, Little Canada, Coon Rapids and Fridley, with West 7th reopening this month.
Jeff and Steve have been friends since their middle school days in Blaine when they both worked for Jeff’s dad’s car washing business. He began investing in a number of sites in 1980, including a partnership with Todd Kormanik, who owned the West 7th site and mentored the elder Harstad. Harstad expanded to five locations, four of which remain as part of The Car Wash Co.
Jeff and Steve wanted to build on their experience and bought two Robert Street car washes in 2014, in West and South St. Paul. Then when Todd Kormanik decided to retire in 2020 after 43 years, they added West 7th to their group.
It was a challenge. Todd had expanded to 12 bays after starting with four in 1967, but his building had aged poorly and needed major work as well as up-to-date washing equipment. Jeff and Steve wanted to use all their accumulated knowledge and experience to take the project to an excellent conclusion. This meant rebuilding the original Quonset hut sections, redesigning the bays, installing new equipment and amenities. Their goal was to create a fairly priced, flexible and reliable service.
A quick inspection of the equipment room now being outfitted with everything needed for the operation drew a remark from Steve: “We’re installing the best there is on the market — look at this copper piping!”
Their variety of equipment allows customers to create their own washing pattern and better meet their specific needs. Available tools are presoak, high pressure soap, foamy brush, wax, rinse and new blow dryers. Payment can be made with a credit card and is standardized at $1 for 100 seconds for any of the tools. And the traditional Half-Price Tuesday will return. The bays are heated, and a warm room is available for changing and has a fully stocked vending machine. After an early February opening, the entire month will be offered at half-price to welcome the community back.
Jeff and Steve are clear that they have invested a lot in this effort in part to honor the long community history of this spot. In the late 1800s it was a lumber yard. In 1905, the Commercial Club — a city-wide organization for civic betterment — established its West 7th location there, and was a major community resource until 1964, when the building was destroyed by fire. McDonald’s opened in 1964, and Todd Kormanik followed in 1967. In that era, McDonald’s had neither drive-through nor indoor seating. But the teens who loved cars gathered on the spot, bought their Big Macs and malts, and lovingly washed their cars, and the site became a destination.
Now, the Car Wash Company is ready to resume that tradition.
Jeff added, “West 7th is really different from our other locations because it is part of a community that cares about its history. We’ve tried to build on the tradition, make a beautiful building, and show everyone how welcome they are.”
The Car Wash Co., 536 Clay St. at Erie. Thecarwashcomn.com; Washingcars777@gmail.com.
by Jerry Rothstein