Maryland State Police closed four Flagship Car Wash Centers across Montgomery County Sunday without warning, company owners told 7 On Your Side.
Around 1 p.m., four marked MSP SUVs arrived at the Flagship location along Chapman Avenue in Rockville. Within a matter of minutes, customers were cleared from the property, which is located approximately half-a-mile south of the Twinbrook Metro Station. A few dozen vehicles were utilizing the car wash at the time. Similar scenes played out at Flagship's locations in Gaithersburg, Germantown, plus a second location in Rockville along Hungerford Drive.
The Flagship along Chapman Avenue in Rockville has eight self-car-wash stalls, five vacuum machines, and a dual-lane automatic, indoor car wash.
Krysti Hinton, the owner of Flagship Car Wash Centers, told 7 On Your Side she was stunned to learn state troopers had rolled up on her Maryland locations.
"They said, 'We got a call about your business,'" Hinton stated by telephone. "And when they came to shut us down, they wouldn't even show us the Governor's orders because they're [apparently] not allowed to?"
According to Hinton, Flagship handles multiple contracts with so-called essential businesses, including the U.S. Secret Service, National Institutes of Health, Rockville Police, and Montgomery County Police.
"I have an email from the Maryland Governor's Office telling us they cannot make a ruling on car washes," Hinton added. "I have the essential business list and it says, 'car maintenance can still be open.'"
Hinton acknowledged she is aware of the dangers of COVID-19. After all, her son contracted the virus and her daughter is a nurse at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. However, she does not agree with the decision to shutter a near-majority of her locations.
"I know it's a job, they had to do it, but the state police even seemed to think it was ridiculous," Hinton contended. "I have employees who have been with me from 25 to 30 years. I mean, they've got kids, this is their livelihood."
Flagship operates nine locations across DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia. Hinton explained that the four Virginia locations remain open, while DC and Maryland are now closed until further notice.
"They have a different philosophy in Virginia," Hinton remarked. "That's what I'll say about that."
A pop-up notification appears when accessing Flagship's corporate website. It states in bold letters, "WE ARE OPEN." The pop up lists the various services available at each location amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"As a small business that has operated over 30 years, the health and safety of our employees, our customers, and our local community is our number one priority at Flagship Car Wash Centers," the pop-up notification reads. "We are continuing to monitor COVID-19 developments closely and are doing our part to prevent further spread of the virus while taking the necessary steps to maintain business continuity for everyone."
According to Maryland State Police, car washes are not considered "essential" by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) nor the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's essential worker guidelines.
"There are unique situations that allow for car washes to perform private disinfecting services for essential vehicles such as medical and food transportation," MSP Spokesman Greg Shipley told 7 On Your Side. "A trip out to simply wash the dirt off your vehicle would be considered non-essential travel during this state of emergency."
Shipley added that troopers from the Rockville Barrack observed the car wash along Chapman Avenue in operation Sunday, and contacted the owner. The business promptly blocked the washing bays and the main entrance.
"No further action was taken," Shipley noted. "The same regulation applies to all locations, so they should remain closed."
A Montgomery County spokeswoman stated County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles and Earl Stoddard, the director of the County's Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, were not given advance warning about the closure of all four Flagship Car Wash locations in Gaithersburg, Germantown, and Rockville.