A lot of crazy things can happen in a car wash. Just ask Bruce Milen or his son Jason Milen, second- and third-generation owners of Jax Kar Wash.
Jason & Bruce Milen, Owners of Jax Kar Wash
While they haven’t witnessed anything like the classic “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode — in which Larry David and Cheryl Hines get stuck in the malfunctioning car wash after she has just downed a dose of colon cleanser — the Milens have their own hilarious stories to laugh about.
Bruce recalls one woman who came in for full service.
“Our final guy put her in the car. She drove off and, unbeknownst to her, one of our guys was still in the back seat.”
Jason remembers one inebriated man who went through with his convertible top down.
They’ve also encountered bags of marijuana left in cars, interiors reeking of pot odor, the guy who laid a gun down on the counter when he was paying for his service (“the cashier freaked out,” he says), and another who left a loaded gun on the seat of the car (“we had to call the customer to get it out—we won’t touch them,” Jason says).
And then, says Bruce, there was the pet owner whose dog had just pooped on the floor, and she left the pile there for the attendants to deal with.
Just another day at Jax.
Effervescent cashier Rose Thompkins greets customers in Jax’s bustling waiting area in Birmingham with the big windows and the long racks that hold everything from candy bars to car mats. Air fresheners are big sellers. The most popular scent among the 25 or so types Jax sells, according to Thompkins, is Little Tree’s Black Ice.
“Definitely Black Ice,” a customer at the register agrees. “It’s good and neutral.”
Here you can also find cell phone accessories, auto wax, towels and cold drinks. Jason says the front stuff isn’t a big part of the business, it’s just for customer convenience.
Marty Weissman watches the steam and suds through the window, waiting for his Mercedes SUV to emerge from the conveyor blower.
“I’ve been coming here for 10 years,” Weissman says, “and this place ranks better than most for the service and the way you can get in and out quickly.”
Weissman, who lives a few blocks from the car wash, is a member of Jax’s Unlimited Club Plan, for which he pays $35 a month. That gives him up to twice-daily full-service (inside and out) washings and discounts on special services, detailing and merchandise. Today, a radio frequency identification reader (RFID) scanned the FastPass sticker at the bottom of his rear windshield after he entered the car wash, without having to hand someone cash — moving things along even more swiftly.
Somewhere, Jack Milen, who founded Jax in 1953 at the corner of Six Mile and Meyers in Detroit, is smiling at the innovations his son Bruce, 70, and grandson Jason, 48, have implemented since his passing in 2003: The RFID scanner; the super-suds, eco-friendly detergents; the ability to use credit cards for monthly payments (Jax had a Club Plan starting in 1956, but because credit cards had not been invented, customers had to pay a yearly fee up front); and the addition of the exterior-only option, so customers can stay in their cars.
“It’s less expensive and appeals to a whole different market,” says Jason.
Over 65 years, the Jax motto, “always put the customer first,” has served the company well, although there was a short, regrettable period when that wasn’t the case: In 1998, the family sold the business to a national chain, which ignored the customer and tried but failed to take the company public. Bruce bought Jax back in 2001, and it has stayed on track ever since. Bruce and Jason both run it together. Bruce does day-to-day operations. Jason does marketing and is in charge of social media.
Jason remembers working for Bruce every Sunday when he was 8 or 9 years old.
“I’d have to clean all the shelves in the lobby — I got a dollar,” he recalls. Starting at age 14, he learned every aspect of the business and watched it grow. Jax currently boasts eight locations in Oakland County and another, the newest, in Macomb County. Bruce says further expansions are planned.
“I love the business,” Jason says. “I love our great customers and our great team members—some have been here 20 years.” In all, there are 300 full-time team members and 200 more part-timers.
The biggest challenge the Milens face are the bottlenecks: The days when nobody comes in, and then all of a sudden six cars are there at the same time for full service. Jax tries to make the experience 25 minutes or less, but when people have to wait, they get mad and post nasty reviews on social media.
“We’re not perfect, but we try to be,” says Jason. “We have a quality guarantee, so we ask that if somebody didn’t have a perfect experience to tell us about it and let us fix it instead of going away mad and posting a bad review on the Internet.”
He and his staff monitor all of the social media comments, good and bad, and he responds to any complaints within one working day. His attendants provide a checklist to every car to review after service, and he hopes people take a look before they leave.
“We’re in the people business,” he says. “We just happen to wash cars.”
Some Fun Jax Facts
Since 1953, Jax has washed millions of cars. At least.
All that water and dirt that rolls off your car is separated by a system that sends the water to a sewage treatment plant to be neutralized, while the dirt falls into a pit that gets carted away.
The soaps are eco-friendly, designed to break down before the blower hits the car at the end of the cycle.
Despite summer being a big season for car washing, winter is by far Jax’s busiest time because of all the road salt.
A full-service wash takes seven team members: two to vacuum, two to drive, and three to towel dry. When it’s busy, Jax employs up to 20 team members at a time.
The worst cleaning mess is vomit; biohazard suits and goggles have to be worn. That goes for blood, often present when cop cars are brought in.
34745 Woodward Ave.
Birmingham, MI 48009
27054 Woodward Ave.
Royal Oak, MI 48067
Phone: (248) 547-3450
2835 W. Maple Rd.
Troy, MI 48084
Rochester Hills, Southfield (Telegraph Rd., Southfield Rd.), West Bloomfield, Auburn Hills and Clinton Township
I first met Kevin Dean back in the late-1980s, when I wrote a story about the magnificent selection of seafood at Superior Fish for Detroit Monthly magazine, where I worked at the time. Kevin was dressed up in a wild Hawaiian shirt holding a pool toy for the photo, and we bonded about the fact that we both came from Allen Park.
Zoom forward to this week, when I was in to do another story, this time celebrating the 78th year of his family’s company. Inside the spotless market, I interviewed architect Chris Wzacny of Bloomfield Hills, a 25-year customer who was in every week and greeted by first name. He was there for the wild bass and sea scallops. A first-time customer, Royal Oak’s Ryan Behringer, was there with his son Beckett, after hearing raves from friends about the market. He was looking for some red snapper after loving it in Florida on vacation. A few days later, I learned that it would be the final week of business for Superior Fish. Like so many fans in the metro area, the news was shocking and sad. I stopped into the store. Kevin and I hugged, and both of us welled up.
You never want something so good to end, but for the Dean family, it’s time.
You never want something so good to end, but for the Dean family, it’s time.
Their announcement on Facebook was this: “To everything there is a season, and now it is time to announce the closing of Superior Fish. For over 75 years we have had the privilege of being of service to Royal Oak and the Greater Metropolitan Detroit area. We sincerely appreciate and thank you for your patronage and support. Many thanks to our coworkers who have helped to make Superior Fish …..SUPERIOR! Our last ‘O FISH AL’ day of full service will be Saturday June 16th. The week of June 18 we will have a Superior FROZEN Sale. Follow us on our website / Facebook for more details. Superior Fish & the Dean Family THANK YOU and may your future be SUPERIOR!”
Kevin Dean is only 58 years old, but he has worked in the family business for 50 years, following the mantra that his father, John, instilled in Kevin and his brother David, 61: “Honesty is our policy. Always be honest with your customers and suppliers. Respect them. Repay their loyalty with your loyalty.”
John passed away in 2011. David, Kevin, their wives, their kids and many employees have carried on the retail and wholesale business — where you could find gorgeous specimens of king crab, shrimp, flounder, grouper, haddock, halibut, lake perch, lobster or octopus — ever since.
In Royal Oak, where development has gone crazy for the last three decades, Superior Fish’s location at 11 Mile and 4th Street with the large parking lot behind has been viewed as Mecca for location, location, location.
“People have been making offers for many, many years,” says Kevin. “But that’s not the main reason we’re closing. It’s a myriad of reasons.” He doesn’t specify, but says to read between the lines.
Everything aligned, he says, that this was the time to sell. Yet he also says it feels totally surreal that this is happening. “We will miss the community very much,” he says. “So much of our lives and family gatherings were spent here.”
Working behind the counter at the register, Kevin’s daughter Stephanie Dean, 20, says she’s never worked anywhere else but Superior Fish, except babysitting. “They (her parents) brought us here when we were born instead of our house, so it’s our second home.” She’s excited about the next chapter of her life, but feels sad, too.
So does Jerry Schmidt of Troy, a 30-year customer, who says he heard the news and just felt like he had to stop in and buy something. “I’m just kind of roving here, thinking about the stone crab claws I used to buy and how my dear friend, now departed, used to come in and spend $400 for holidays every year on oysters and make oyster stew for everyone.”
Cathy Burr of Ferndale is equally devastated about the closing. She came in for the makings of ceviche. “I am so sad to see it close. It’s been here my whole life.”
309 E. 11 Mile Rd.
Royal Oak, MI 48067
Cindy Morris had a devastating problem. She owned three rescue dogs, and all three had cancer. That seemed like more than a coincidence, and she wanted to find out why.
Owner Cindy Morris
“I started doing research online, saw what was in our pet’s food, what’s in the supplements they might take — wondering if we are over-vaccinating our dogs,” says Morris. What she found is that most of the packaged pet food on the shelves — even the premium stuff — is often up to 18 months old, thus depleted of the vitamins and minerals animals need to thrive.
After experimenting with a line of her own homeopathic supplements for dogs as well a few for cats, Morris developed a following at the local farmer’s markets, and decided this was her next calling. She had spent more than 30 years managing J.L. Hudson and Macy’s department stores, and after retiring early, she was looking for something that could combine her business acumen with her love of animals.
Morris opened Pet Wants in Birmingham in October 2016. “I saw that this could be something to bring to the community, somewhere they could buy fresh food. Our food is made fresh every month in Lisbon, Ohio, by a 30-year family company that’s never had a recall, so when I place an order, that’s when they start to make it for me.”
Pet Wants’ kibble is slow-cooked in small batches, which retains the nutrients. “We only source the best protein, like lamb and wild-caught salmon from Nova Scotia, and our food does not have any fillers. Dogs and cats should not have any corn, wheat or soy, no animal byproducts, nothing unspecified and no added sugars or dyes. And it’s all made in USA, which is what my clients like.”
On top of that, Pet Wants delivers for free.
“My passion is trying to make a difference in the animal companions of my clients. They should be living a lot longer than they are,” says Morris. Sadly, two of her rescue dogs died. But Bailey, a mix of Curly Coated Retriever, Bernese Mountain Dog, Shepherd and Collie, has been in remission for seven years and is almost 15. Bailey likes to greet customers at the front door, as does diminutive Beau, another rescue dog, who is a mix of Border Terrier, Parsons Russell Terrier, Shitzu and Pug.
Melissa Shepherd of West Bloomfield is a fan of Pet Wants. She has been shopping here for her 18-month-old mini golden-doodle, Emmett, since it opened. She lost her last dog way too young — only 8 years old — and thinks the food at Pet Wants has made a huge difference in her new pup’s pep and appearance.
“His hair is so soft and he has such great, shiny teeth,” Shepherd says. The food is mainly based on brown rice (some is grain-free) and offers several varieties of protein, which keeps dogs from getting bored. “Emmett loves it.”
There’s also a well-curated selection of cat food, wet and dry, along with cans of wet dog food and even some locally made, fresh-frozen meatballs to sprinkle over dog kibble.
Birmingham dog trainer Ray Kerimian, who met Morris at her farmer’s market booths, also swears by the quality and variety of Pet Wants’ products. “I’m pleasantly surprised. My dogs now have shiny coats and a lot less stool — a lot of dog food has lots of fillers, which go right through their systems.”
Morris never sells her food beyond 90 days, because it begins to lose its nutritional value after that. “We donate it to shelters and rescues: Detroit Dog Rescue, Michigan Animal Rescue League, and Good Karma Puppy Rescue.”
Hanging from one of the walls in Pet Wants are trainer Kerimian’s line of waterproof leashes, along with other colorful pet products made by local businesses, all beautifully displayed. Who knew that pet supplies could look so chic?
In fact, the nearly 2,000-square-foot space, a former art gallery, is immaculate. The floors are polished cement, track lighting makes everything pop, and her custom-made bins and displays are sleek. A sitting area to the rear features comfy chairs and room for events.
“The whole concept is kind of like an urban store, a boutique specialty store,” says Morris. “Clients can go online and order their food and anything else that’s carried in the store. We pack it up and deliver it.”
Here you can find handmade dishwasher-safe, BPA-free, recyclable toys; treats; litter; poopy pickups, and pee pads in brightly wrapped packages. Nothing feels Big Box, and nothing comes from China.
In the homeopathic section, tinctures and other remedies in attractively labeled brown glass are for ailments like sensitive stomachs, mobility challenges and anxiety, all made from essential organic oils. Find paw wax and healing salve for dogs’ elbows and post-surgical stitch removal, calming balm with lavender and peppermint (not for cats but also good for humans), and a new batch of nontoxic mosquito, flea and tick spray.
Morris also carries probiotics, which enhances the immune system and puts good bacteria back in pets’ guts. She has seen great results with her dog Bailey, whose immune system was already compromised from cancer.
Another popular item at Pet Wants is Canna Drops, phytocannabinoids from the hemp plant known as CBD oil, for cats and dogs. It’s legal in all 50 states and is used for anxiety, pain, inflammation, mobility issues and seizures.
“I’ve gotten nothing but good feedback from customers,” says Morris. “Bailey has been on it since last fall. She walks three miles a day with me and she’s still energetic and wants to play.”
Watch for monthly events, visits with vet/chiropractor Dr. Grant Tully, and puppy training throughout the year.
Flipside Records in Clawson is a trip back to Hippie Detroit time, somewhat reminiscent of Plum Street, with its chartreuse walls and incense burners.
Todd Fundaro, Owner
If you came of age in the ’70s, picture the Trading Post, another long-gone Hippie haven on Woodward and 10 Mile.
For those much younger, it’s your Boomer parents’ basement, minus the parents — just the tunes and the ambiance, plus lots of new music your folks never heard of.
“You never know what you’ll see in here,” says Todd Fundaro, Flipside’s owner, who proclaims you’ll find “anything I can legally sell and make money on.”
Royal Oak’s Frank Wilder, a self-proclaimed movie freak, stands in front of the store’s “Death of Digital Sale” sign, leafing furtively through the DVDs.
“I usually stop in every couple of weeks,” Wilder says. “It takes me about 15 minutes to see if there’s anything I want.”
Another regular customer, Jim Morrissey from Clarkston, is rummaging around in the “Audiophile” section of original master recordings and says he owns a $30,000 stereo system that fills one wall of his house. He prefers LPs to CDs. “Mostly you can find things here that you can’t get anywhere else,” he says.
Today, Morrissey brought in some stereo equipment that he hopes to sell to Fundaro, who features a whole section up front with some very good deals on used models, and also new equipment such as turntables and accessories. Under $200 for a used Bang + Olufsen turntable, for example (“but the needle needs replacing and that costs $150,” the store owner explains).
Fundaro, who grew up in Ferndale, started working with his father, Frank, when he was a teenager. Frank and a partner sold coins, stamps and other collectibles in a shop at 10 Mile and Coolidge in Oak Park. Then the market fell out, and they needed something else to do. That was 1980.
“We tried used books,” Fundaro recalls, then added used records, competing with the only other place around at the time, Sam’s Jams in Ferndale. When Frank’s partner split in 1983, he and Todd moved to Clawson, putting Flipside on the must-browse Oakland County circuit ever since. Frank passed away in 2012, and Todd has carried on with a small staff and an enormous inventory. Like maybe half a million things under one roof. Nobody knows for sure.
“We sell, buy and trade here,” says Fundaro, now 55. “A lot of our super expensive vinyl we sell online. We just bought a huge bunch of Kate Bush LPs from the ‘80s and ‘90s. We bought another collection recently of 4,000 LPs and 6,000 CDs, and way back in the day, we bought a 10,000-LP collection.”
Younger kids come in and buy older LPs, music that their parents turned them onto, “but mostly they’re buying the newer stuff, which is very expensive,” Fundaro says. “We used to buy new records when we were young for $8.99. Now they buy three new albums and it’s $70 to $100.”
But LPs are just some of the inventory here.
Look up, and a pair of silver Led Zeppelin blimps hang above, along with other musical ephemera. Look around and there are video games and accessories, toys, posters, band-related T-shirts, head-shop stuff, 45s, books, board games and weird toys—unlikely combos of mixed heads and torsos (a monkey face on a fuzzy Mickey Mouse, for example) created by local artist Gwen Joy.
Up near the front counter of this cavernous, 3,300-square-foot outpost, find Beatles memorabilia, a roll of Trump toilet paper, a rack of Hot Wheels (a steal at $2.99 each), “Mystery Bags” with 10 CDs for $5, Indy-label artists, and new and used music in nearly every form and genre, from Ambient to Zydeco.
Well, not everything, at least not on this visit. Toward the front of the store, another regular, Denis Nobliski, is having no luck finding a copy of the “Fragile” album by Yes.
“I originally bought it in the ‘70s, says the Rochester Hills resident, who, like Morrissey, says he favors LPs over CDs, adding, “Albums just blow the CDs away.”
Flipside’s Fundaro knows that truth: Today, vinyl, which fills a large percentage of the racks in his store, is gold. LPs survived the onset of 8-tracks, tapes, CDs, MP3s and streaming, and so has Flipside, now in its 35th year. Flipside just received a plaque from the City of Clawson to commemorate the event.
And if it weren’t for the fact that Clawson’s main intersection is ripped to shreds, traffic is down to one lane and miserable, and anybody’s GPS will take them in circles to find parking near his store, on 14 Mile Rd., just east of Main, Fundaro would be celebrating.
Instead, he has to wait until at least the end of June until the mess on the streets clears out and sales can get back to normal.
“We’re down 40 percent since the construction began (in April), says Fundaro. “Everyone around here has the same problem.”
But the good news: When construction’s over, summer will be in full swing, Clawson’s streets will be beautiful, and Flipside can break out some cake and candles. Let the summer begin.
41 E. 14 Mile Road
Clawson, Michigan 48317
(Hint: Park in the rear of the store or in the nearby Ace Hardware lot.)