Allison Budslick likes to watch customers as they emerge from the narrow hallway that connects the car drop-off area at White Bridge Auto Wash in Nashville, which she co-owns with her husband, Paul, to Duke’s General Store for the first time. “The looks of surprise on their faces; it’s so much fun,” she says of their reaction to the modern gift shop and marketplace she and Paul opened last year inside the car wash lobby. “I never thought I would own a store, especially not one in a car wash, but we wanted to create something totally unexpected.”
Paul’s stepfather started the full-service, family-owned car wash in 1987, and while Nashville natives might not feel nostalgic about it in quite the same way they may for, say, Bobby’s Dairy Dip and its cones of chocolate-slicked vanilla soft-serve, White Bridge Auto Wash is a Music City landmark in its own right. When his stepfather decided to retire in 2013, Paul quit his coat-and-tie bank job and bought the business. “It was hard to think of it not staying in the family,” he says. There was only one issue: Nothing had been renovated since 1987.
Space for a small shop had always existed in the lobby—a young Reese Witherspoon once bought handbags there—and last year, as part of a larger refresh, the Budslicks decided to try something different. Instead of the wiper blades and tree-shaped air-fresheners you might find in similar spaces across the country, Allison filled the newly revamped store’s blonde-wood built-ins with giftable food stuffs, contemporary home goods, irreverent greeting cards, artful kids’ toys and games, natural beauty products, and an impressively curated collection of best-selling cookbooks (from the South and beyond) that’s attracting the attention of some of the city’s top chefs. Julia Sullivan, the executive chef at Henrietta Red, for instance, recently stopped in (and left with a stack) after being disappointed by the cookbook selection at Barnes & Noble.
“I feel like everything we carry is a reflection of the two of us and what we like,” Allison says. “But we also try to have a little something for everyone, because we have people from all walks of life come through our doors.” The couple emphasizes local and regional offerings: resin rings from Marble Accessories, based in East Nashville; organic hand lotions and soaps from Little Seed Farm in Lebanon, Tennessee; TruBee Honey, out of nearby Franklin. But the couple’s favorite travel destinations—particularly Mexico and California—influence inventory as well. “And if a car wash employee wants to sell his art or craft, we do that, too,” Allison says. They also don’t take themselves too seriously—just take a look at the general store’s humorous collection of gag gifts. “Paul loves classic toys and practical jokes like whoopee cushions, spy glasses, trick gum, and cocktail napkins that look like hundred-dollar bills.”
It should be noted: You don’t have to get your car washed while you shop—but why wouldn’t you?