Plans call for longtime bar to be torn down to make way for high-tech car wash

This file photo from December 2008 shows the sign at the Cadillac Ranch, 2515 W. Sixth St.

There was a time period where about four nights a week I went to the Cadillac Ranch dressed in such colorful country and western attire some people thought I should run my outfit through a car wash. I guess those folks will get the last laugh because plans are in the works to tear down the longtime bar and replace it with a high-tech car wash.

Steve Stallard, an owner of the Cascades Car Wash chain, told me he has a contract to purchase the former Cadillac Ranch location at 2515 W. Sixth St. He plans to build a 120- to 140-foot long tunnel car wash on the site.

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Yes, this may sound familiar. Tunnel car washes may become the newest trend in Lawrence. If there were a chicken restaurant at the end of the tunnel it could become the ultimate trend. You may remember that there is a relatively new tunnel car wash next to the QuikTrip near 23rd and Haskell. Scott Zaremba with the local Zarco chain of convenience stores has proposed plans for a tunnel car wash near Ninth and Iowa, and another chain –Tommy’s Car Wash — has filed plans to tear down the former Applebee’s building at Sixth and Monterey Way in Lawrence, although that plan still needs significant city approvals. Plus, Hurricane Car Wash came to the market several years ago near Sixth and Wakarusa.

The competition already has some benefits for consumers. For one, you are a complete chump if you pay to vacuum your car in Lawrence. While the supposed “smart money” has been paying attention to the historic rise in the stock market, those of us with “remedial money” have been fixated on the plummeting price of vacuuming your car in Lawrence. Many of these tunnel car washes offer free vacuums — and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to say this — but I’ve used the vacuum even on days I haven’t gotten a car wash. (I get very excited about free vacuuming, although my wife gets dismayed because she notes I can vacuum the house for free at any time.)

Despite the uptick in activity, Stallard said Lawrence is still under-served in the car wash world. He has been in the business for about 13 years. The company is based in Dallas and has more than a dozen car washes, mainly in Texas. But Stallard, who originally is from Topeka, has his eyes on the Kansas City market, including Lawrence. The company has a location in Bonner Springs and has said Kansas City is its major growth market.

He said the entire industry is undergoing a transformation — an out with the old and in with the new type of thing. He said the idea of self-serve washes are falling out of favor. You know the type. You get out of the car, grab a wand, stack your quarters on top of the machine, furiously wash so you don’t have to put another 50 cents in, decide you have to put more money in, knock the stack of quarters over, and then get your hand caught in a drain trying to save 50 cents.

And then there is the idea of washing your car in the driveway. That idea is all but dead, he said.

“That has gone away,” Stallard said. “People don’t like it, and cities don’t like it.” Soap in the storm sewers is a concern for cities and environmentalists.

The tunnel car washes, he said, are capitalizing off the overarching trend in America: convenience. People don’t have to get out of their cars, and Stallard said the equipment he plans to install will wash a car in about three minutes.

As for a timeline for the project to begin, Stallard said he hopes to finalize the purchase of the property soon and start construction by the middle of the summer. He contends the site has all the necessary zoning to allow a car wash, although he hasn’t yet filed plans with City Hall.