BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — A chain of local car washes has remained open despite a state order deeming car washes "non-essential" during the COVID-19 pandemic, the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team has learned.
And Royal Car Wash -- which has locations in West Seneca, Lancaster and Amherst -- appears to be doing so with the approval of police.
7 Eyewitness News received a tip that the West Seneca car wash, located at Transit Road and Clinton Street near the Elma town border, was staying open despite Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's PAUSE order mandating all non-essential businesses to close because of COVID-19.
The state's list of essential businesses does not include car washes, and even the industry's main trade group acknowledges they are not exempt from the public safety guidelines.
"According to the Empire State Development Guidance on Essential Businesses a carwash is a 'non-essential' business," the New York State Car Wash Association wrote on its website. "Several of our members have put a request in for an exemption and have been denied."
A spokeswoman for Empire State Development did not indicate that Royal Car Wash had received an exemption from the state.
Royal Car Wash, which is based in Rochester, has a disclaimer on its website stating that as of April 6, "All car wash locations have reopened...for First Responders and active Club Members only. We have applied to the state as a provider of essential services in the automotive repairs & maintenance classification with medical transport and local municipality contracts as some reports indicate the virus can live on vehicle surfaces and may contribute to the spread of the virus."
The notice also states that the car washes, which feature automated credit card machines for payment, "will operate with only one employee" at each location and "customers are instructed not to exit their vehicles for any reason."
But when a reporter from the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team went to the West Seneca location Wednesday morning, there were no restrictions limiting usage to "Club Members" and the reporter was able to receive a car wash with no questions asked. While one employee appeared to have a protective mask on his face, another did not.
When reached by phone Wednesday, Rick Carosa, president and partner of the Royal Car Wash chain, said he would take down a reporter's number and call him back.
Gov. Cuomo has said that local law enforcement is responsible for enforcing the PAUSE orders, and Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said this week that businesses violating the law could be subject to fines of $10,000 and up to a year in jail.
But while law enforcement in Rochester has cracked down on the company, police in suburban Buffalo appear to have given Royal a pass.
An official in the Ontario County Sheriff's Office confirmed to the I-Team that deputies performed "code enforcement" by ordering the location in the Rochester suburb of Victor to close its doors because of the PAUSE order aimed at reducing the spread of the virus.
But in West Seneca, police have not only declined to shut it down -- they have benefited from it remaining open.
The police department's official Facebook page thanks the company "for providing free washes of our patrol cars for the duration of this lockdown."
It includes a picture of a black-and-white West Seneca police cruiser placed at the car wash's entrance.
Lt. James Unger, a spokesman for the West Seneca police, did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment before this story aired on TV.
UPDATE: West Seneca police have issued a statement on the department Facebook page saying, "We take the Executive Order seriously and are in no way offering a pass to any business that is in violation of it."
The department cites part of Gov. Cuomo's executive order which deems "any business that only has a single occupant/employee" exempt from the order.
"We will be looking into it to verify they are in compliance of this stipulation," the Facebook post stated. "We are very grateful that Royal Car Wash reached out to us to assist in keeping our cars clean during this time. We have been actively trying to promote local businesses who have been struggling."
Click here to read the Facebook post.