By Royal Brevvaxling Special to Published Apr 05, 2012 at 3:01 PM

Jimbo's Car Wash, 310 E. Capitol Dr., is a Milwaukee institution. The classic automated car wash with hand drying, vacuuming and detailing was opened by Jim Pemble 30 years ago this July.

Jimbo's is the latest in a long line of car washes inhabiting the space. The first was Frantz Car Wash in the '50s, when workers stood in the wash line near huge tubs with their sponges and brushes while a chain pulled the vehicles through.

The next incarnation in the space was Lorino's Car Wash.

"My parents bought the car wash from Joe (Lorino)," says general manager Robin Bittermann, who grew up in the car wash. "I've been at Jimbo's for 30 years and manager for the last 20, at least."

Pemble and his wife Ruth, who remained a silent partner while working 36 years for Harley-Davidson, had three daughters working for them at one time.

Pemble was working in Racine when the car wash came up for sale. Bittermann says owning a car wash is something Pemble wanted to do because he knew something about it, having managed a Martin Station on North 3rd Street and Meinecke years before.

Wash prices start at $11 for the standard wash and rise incrementally with additional services from the Silver Special for $12.90 to the Gold Special for $14.50 to finally the Jimbo's Best Wash.

Jimbo's Best Wash, which costs $19.99, is a full-service car wash with interior vacuuming, window cleaning, dashboards cleaned, door jambs wiped and a towel dry. Finishing includes three coats of wax and clear-coat paint sealant, as well as "tire dressing," which is sealant and protectant that makes your tires shiny.

Jimbo's Best Wash is topped off with a new air freshener, which signs at Jimbo's says provides a "pleasant, long-lasting fragrance."

Detailing costs $79 for cars, $95 for SUVs and $120 for passenger vans. Detailing includes a complete Jimbo's wash with carpet shampooing and extensive interior cleaning.

"We get all the nooks and crannies," says Bittermann.

Once temps stay above 32 degrees at night, the detailing begins at Jimbo's

A new express hand wax which includes a standard line wash has recently been added.

Jimbo's started offering an exterior-only wash a year ago to compete with the growing number of automatic washes.

"After they built (a nearby gas station automatic wash) some of our customers tried it, but lots of people came back and said they needed the Jimbo's clean," says Bittermann.

Jimbo's has 12 employees, including a group of guys who have worked strictly during the winter for last 14 years. They have a landscaping business that occupies all their time during the summer months.

"We hire guys with personality. There's not a lot of turnover, most employees are long-term," says Bittermann.

It's only when somebody quits that she gets somebody new in the car wash. She says that she's lucky that way.

The daily car wash team consists of six employees, two in the back who greet customers, take their orders and load the vehicle into the automatic wash after vacuuming. Three others take care of the vehicle when it comes off the wash line and one is in the office.

Tips are divided among all the workers each shift.

"If one person's not doing a job at that moment, somebody else is, so everyone deserves a piece," says Bittermann.

Workers show up 10 minutes before shifts begin to get situated. Through the day, Bittermann has workers rotate jobs so it doesn't become tedious.

"It's interesting work, I like it. I'm never bored, that's for sure," says Ellis Wilson, who's worked at Jimbo's for 14 years.

"All walks of life come through here," adds Esbegee Kong, an aspiring music artist who's worked at Jimbo's for a little over two months.

Judy Moranski has been Jimbo's office manager for six years and also worked there when she was 16, when she met Bittermann. The two have been friends for 25 years.

"Jimbo's is like family. I love this place, because everyone has a smile," says Jamie Walker, a Jimbo's customer for the past few years.

Bittermann says a slow day at Jimbo's is when it's cloudy and dreary. Those days, Jimbo's averages only 30 washes. For comparison, 100 washes is an average good day.

"The most washes we've had in a day has been over 800," says Bittermann.

Winter months are better than summer months for business. Bittermann says the salt trucks are a welcome sight.

"This last winter was bad for all car washes. It was just too warm," she says.

The longest Jimbo's has been out of operation is two days at a time, waiting for parts which aren't available at the local hardware store.

"We want people to feel taken care of," says Bittermann. "We have a great personality; we do a really good job taking are of customers and giving them what they want."

Jimbo's is open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Royal Brevvaxling Special to
Royal Brevväxling is a writer, educator and visual artist. As a photo essayist, he also likes to tell stories with pictures. In his writing, Royal focuses on the people who make Milwaukee an inviting, interesting and inspiring place to live.

Royal has taught courses in critical pedagogy, writing, rhetoric and cultural studies at several schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He is currently Adjunct Associate Professor of Humanities at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

Royal lives in Walker’s Point with his family and uses the light of the Polish Moon to illuminate his way home.