Julian Hill, 44, is the owner of Detroit's Celebrity Car Wash & Detail. He bought the building around 2000, and has built it up into a successful business. The motorist who regularly drives on Woodward Avenue, however, will likely know Hill's establishment not for its services but for its marquee. For about a decade, that signage has been given over to uplifting, spiritual messages that both amuse and mystify the public. Over the years, the sign has offered such messages as: "Feel good about yourself," "Keep moving forward," and "Are U Putting enough into life?" We thought we'd catch up with the mystery man behind these stirring notices, and he was gracious enough to chat with us.
Metro Times: So how did this all start?
Julian Hill: When I bought it, the space was abandoned, and I was looking to shine light in an area. It's kind of funny. In the beginning when I first opened it up, I would put up messages like "Preserve your paint. Get your car detailed today!" But nobody would come in! [laughs]
MT: What made you change how you used the sign?
Hill: I was going through this very dysfunctional relationship. And that was the first time I changed the sign. I was so fed up with what was going on that I put on the board, "Love and insanity are closely related." Something like that. And then my friend, who's married, he was just like, "Man, I had to stop on Woodward and literally just think about that for a minute. You are so right!" And then when I went through challenges, I would just put up things that gave me strength and hope and inspiration. I just realized that it did more to inspire other people, and, at the same time, it really increased business, because people were so drawn to the messages.
MT: The messages have really captured people's attention in a spiritual way.
Hill: I think that we all need inspiration, and I think that we all have challenging times. I think that even a billboard once in a while saying you are loved, I think we all need to know that, to feel and understand that. This world can be so lonely, and it can be so challenging. We need inspiration and support from as many people as are willing to give it. That's kind of where it all kind of stems from. If I'm feeling a certain way or I need something, I'll change it. And that's just how it kind of works. Or somebody might give me something to put up there and I'll put it up there.
MT: Is that how some of these come to you? Other people come up with them?
Hill: Some people come up with them. Some people even correct me. I had "Gods Love" up there, and I don't have an apostrophe mark, so somebody told me I had to put "God is Love." [laughs] I said, "OK." The weather is warm enough and I'll get up there and change this.
MT: I think the statements are often inspiring and thought-provoking, but the real showstoppers are when you pose a question. For example, the one that's up on Google street views right now: "Do you believe in yourself?" Where'd that come from?
Hill: I think that was a day that I was questioning myself. It was maybe a challenge in business. I think that I'm not alone in my thought process. I think so many people doubt themselves, and if they ask themselves if they believe in themselves, they will say, "Yes." They gain strength because they believe. And if you believe that you can, then it should automatically change the direction that you're going in that moment. Change your outlook. Change your attitude. I think all of my messages have probably done something to someone. I think they reach out to everybody. People are always trying to sell you something. Come do this, come do that. I think people just want to continue on with their day but know that they aren't alone.
MT: Does the sign draw actual customers?
Hill: [laughs]. Well, we get people that come from Roseville and say that we're the only place they come to. Or I get the 70-year-old Asian lady that comes in on a regular basis and only gets the $8 wash. People come from all over the place, and I would like to think that it has something to do with the sign. I think it's about feeling a little more comfortable because of the fact that it's a little bit more humanistic or personable. We try to do the best that we can. We're far from perfect, but we care.
MT: It kind of makes you an unelected cultural ambassador giving messages to people on their way downtown.
Hill: I like to think that Detroit is a positive place. Just like any other urban area, it's gonna have its problems. We're all in this same thing, trying to stay on top and trying to understand it. We all have to pay our bills and put food on the table. We all have to go to work every day. We all have to deal with traffic. Let's see somebody that's doing something different or even putting their own spiritual or inspirational things out there along with the church. And I think if everybody thought that way, I think it would be a better place to live.
Celebrity Car Wash & Detail is at 8651 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-871-9274.