George Babalis comes clean

By Lanier Laney

 If you aren’t already a customer, you probably pass it several times a day on Boundary Street next to the Salvation Army Store and see the hardworking guys and girls under the little tent busily hand polishing newly clean cars. It’s George Babalis’ Custom Clean Car Wash, Beaufort’s only full service car wash and detail center.
The Babalis family: George and Judi with sons James and Michael.
The Babalis family: George and Judi with sons James and Michael.

George’s parents were born in Tsarisani, Greece, and immigrated with him as a child to Canada in 1961. On his first day of Kindergarten, George was sent home because he did not speak English, since his parents spoke only Greek at home.

His future wife, Judi Richards, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and  moved to Toronto with her parents at age 11.  George and Judi met through mutual friends in Toronto and fell in love and have been married 23 wonderful years. They have two sons  James, 20, and Michael, 19.  Judi teaches Pre-K and is coordinator of instruction for the Kindergarten building at Beaufort Academy.

How did they find Beaufort? Judi used to vacation on Hilton Head Island as a child and always wanted to move back to the area. Judi’s  mom and dad,  Robert and Alwina Richards, retired to Dataw Island in 1990 and called when they heard a car wash was for sale. George, who was working in retail at the time,  bought it and packed up his family and headed to the South with a 2 year old and a 3 week old. They put their house on the market in Toronto and it sold in one day.

What do they love about Beaufort?  Says George, “The warm, kind, friendly people. The customs, small-town feel and an array of people from all over the world.  We even have friends from Canada!”

Speaking of Canada, George added, “We feel so lucky to have found ‘our’ paradise, and love to share it with all our friends and family from afar. We have a ton of visitors, never an empty guest room.  Those Canadians love our weather and waters!” He continues, “When we first moved here, it took a while to take the ‘city’ out of us, we were suspicious of why everyone was so friendly! Judi did not have a car when we first moved here and someone offered to pick her and the boys up to take to the park — I said no way is a stranger going to pick up my family!  Now we look back and realize it was a Southern thing, really just being nice.”

Another Southern story was when Judi took the boys to the doctor the first week they were here and she asked him where all the moms and kids got together. The pediatrician gave her his home phone to call his wife and see when she went to the park with the other moms in town. Judi was so surprised that she had to call friends in Toronto to tell them.

“We could go on with our Southern stories,” said George. “It took a while to get used to but now we love it!”

What about the business? George says, “I have enjoyed the 19 years and have met some great people. I love my regulars —it’s really just a bar without the alcohol.”

He adds, “Customers love our staff, some have been with me for many years.  I have staff that have moved on to careers of their own and are now bringing their children to the wash.  Just the other day a young lady came in with her child and said she remembered coming here as a child herself.  Now I feel old!”

His secret of success? “Treat others how you would like to be treated.”

And as far as sports go? Besides golf, George says, “We LOVE the Toronto Maple Leafs … GO leafs GO! That’s hockey to you Southerners who may not know.”

As far at the future? George says he plans to “keep working, playing golf, spending time with my family and my Hummock brothers at our fish camp.”

One day he hopes to retire to Greece. “Then everybody can visit me there!”

But until then, George says, “It’s never a dull moment at the wash … book to follow!”

Don’t forget folks, Custom Clean Car Wash gift certificates make great stocking stuffers and teacher gifts.

Custom Clean Car Wash is located at 1802 Boundary Street, Beaufort. Call 843-986-9110 or visit www.customcleancarwash.com.

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