Regional

Car wash blues

Ramble young men want help to revive thriving roadside business

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, April 28, 2014    

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SCORES of unemployed young men in Ramble, St Thomas have come up with a way to earn an income from the parish's natural resources.

A never-ending flow of water from a rock high in the mountains provides the means for the young men to establish a car wash business which thrives, even when other areas are experiencing water restrictions.

However, the young men have hit a snag which has brought a temporary closure to their enterprise.

One of the chief organisers of the car wash, Steve Derby, said they have had to cease operations as concerns were raised about the safety of other road users.

"The councillor say the vehicles can't park on the roadway like that and so we just have to stop for a while," Derby said. He explained that the car wash would no longer be as feasible if they were to relocate from the source of water.

Derby believes it will be safe to operate the car wash along the roadway if they were able to find the necessary resources to dump up an area which would widen the road and provide a safer area for them to operate.

The 30-year-old, whose sole income now comes from small farming, said he is planning on restarting the operation as it is the only sure and consistent means for the many unemployed youngsters in this deep rural community to earn a living. Not only is it a source of steady income for the young men but also provides steady business for the small shops in the community.

According to Derby, they were never out of business as motorists from all over the parish would take their vehicles to the washstand throughout the day.

A graduate of Sydney Pagon Agricultural School, Derby said the idea to start the roadside car wash was born out of concern for the high rate of unemployment in the community.

"Wi nuh have no other work, so wi try fi create wi own way of making a living and it really work fi wi, because when the car wash was about, all 2:00 am wi here washing vehicles," Derby told the Jamaica Observer North East.

Explaining the earning potential of this business, Derby said he would purchase supplies of cleaning products wholesale. Fellow car washers were required to contribute $100 to use these products and Derby said this was another way for him to earn a little extra as well.

Derby further explained that their rates are much cheaper than most other car washes, thus making them one of the preferred service providers in the parish. The group charged $300 to wash a car, which is a half of what it cost elsewhere, and $600 to wash a bus as opposed to the usual cost of between $1,000 and $1,500 at other car wash businesses.

The group of young men are able to charge this reduced rate because they not only have no overheads, but their large numbers enabled them to be able to work in teams.

"When one set ah wash the outside of a vehicle another cleaning on the inside," he said.

Another advantage for the group, Derby said, was their ability to offer a service at all times throughout the day.

"The taxi and the bus man dem wash them vehicles late at night and so all hours ah the night them come, all up to two o'clock in the morning," he said, adding that these were their main clients.

Operator of a nearby wayside shop Janice Keen told the Observer North East that the car wash provided a steady income for small businesses like hers in the community.

"If the car wash was still here me wouldn't have to lock so early because from 6:00 pm straight back to 2:00 in the morning the guys dem washing vehicles," she explained.

According to Keen, the motorists would support her shop while they waited to have their vehicles washed.

"It really benefit my business when dem deh here," she reiterated, adding that she will do what she can to ensure that the business is reopened.

Meanwhile, Derby explained that the stream which has enabled the thriving car wash has been running for the 30 years that he has lived in that community.

Over time, the residents used their ingenuity to connect a length of PVC pipe from the hole in the rock in order to have easier access to the water.

That device has not only helped the car washers but the entire community, at times.

"When rain fall and water nuh come in our pipes, quite a few people use it fi do them cooking and washing and just about everything because it run day and night," Derby said.

Although residents have piped water in their homes, he said, it is not the water of choice as it is sourced from a nearby river and therefore, most people prefer to fetch water from the rock as it is pure spring water.

Not only is this spring the only source of water for many residents, but the only reliable source for others during water lock-offs since it never goes dry.

"Sometimes people come all from Harbour View come ketch water and at night time a lot of people come all inna dem car come full up bucket and when we move the pipe, people ask what happen to it," he said.

Meanwhile, Derby said there are tons of other ideas for business ventures in the parish for the many unemployed people. He is hoping that investors will share this vision and help. One such, he said, will be a sure way to attract tourists to this eastern farming parish.

"We have many of these springs coming out of the rocks but most of them are off the main road and these could be developed for tourism... this is what we would love to see," he said.

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