Soap suds and squeegees

More than nine car washes scheduled to open near U.S. Highway 98

Heather Osbourne | 315-4440 | @heatheronwfdn |
Mark Thompson washes his car recently at Red Eye Joe's Car Wash in Destin. [NICK TOMECEK/DAILY NEWS]

Northwest Florida shouldn't have one dirty car in sight after construction is complete on more than nine car washes along and near U.S. Highway 98.

Otto's Express Car Wash, located at 34709 Emerald Coast Parkway in Destin, will likely be the first of many car washes to start opening in the fall and winter months. The car wash, according to owner Todd Garey, will feature a 30-foot tunnel with eco-friendly concepts like a water reclamation system, solar panels and concrete instead of asphalt.

"It's going to be great," Garey said. "We're going to have monthly passes for locals. It will be lit up by neon lights at night, which will be fun for the kids."

Garey said with over 4 million visitors coming through Okaloosa County each year, car washes are greatly needed in the area.

Some current car wash owners, however, disagree.

Connie Babb, owner of Red Eye Joe's Car Wash in Destin, said there just aren't enough customers to support all of the new businesses.

"My husband has talked to some of them and just told them that the number of cars going up and down Highway 98 is deceptive because it's the only route in town, so you get the same cars traveling back and forth," Babb said. "People think they can come in and do what we've done but it doesn't work that way if there are too many in the area."

Otto's Express Car Wash, according to Garey, has begun plans for a second location on the corner of Don Bishop Road and U.S. Highway 98 in South Walton, which will be an identical concept to the Destin location.

Otto's, though, isn't the only one spreading into Destin and South Walton.

Executive Express Car Wash, which already has several locations throughout Destin and South Walton, will be opening three more locations, with its first located at 1071 U.S. Highway 98 at the old Panini Pete's site in Destin. The car wash will be a 3,800-square-foot facility with 28 self-serve vacuums. 

Co-owner John Valliantatos, along with his brother Andy, plan to open two more car washes in South Walton, but have not yet disclosed their locations.

"Right now we're in the architectural phase and we'll be submitting that to the county," Valliantatos said about the Destin car wash. "We're going to have monthly accounts starting at $19.99 where you can wash your car once a day at any of our locations."

Signs for a Ronny's Car Wash have also popped up, but neither are in Destin or South Walton. 

Instead, they are in Navarre on the corner of Coral Street and Navarre Parkway and in Fort Walton Beach on the corner of Racetrack Road and Eglin Parkway.

Ronnie Douglas, owner of Ronny's Car Wash, said the Navarre location will be the first to open sometime in late October or early November. Douglas, who sold all of his Ronny's locations in Pensacola last year, said he plans to open even more locations in Gulf Breeze, Crestview and on U.S. Highway 98 in Fort Walton Beach.

"We're really excited to come out to the area," Douglas said. "The other car washes opening in Destin and Sandestin are a whole different market, so I believe we'll do well. Our model is good and it works."

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