Giving people a second chance in life is something Larry Atchley has become well known for.
But the Cleveland resident said he still believes you only get one chance to make a good first impression and it is that impression that oftentimes determine whether or not he, personally, will give a person a second chance.
Born in Chattanooga, Atchley and his family moved to Cleveland 34 years ago when he first purchased a local car wash on Inman Street and turned it into a thriving business that offers dependable workers a means of making a living and public servants a discount for their service to the community.
“I enjoy helping people that a lot of other people wouldn’t help,” Atchley said. “I’ve had to start over before. I’ve had to start from scratch — from nothing. The Lord has blessed me. Since I’ve been here (in Cleveland) the car wash business has been a good choice. We love living in Cleveland. It’s a town where you can go just about anywhere in five or 10 minutes. I like that over living in Chattanooga. Cleveland has a lot of good people here. It has a lot of churches and we wash a lot of cars for preachers and pastors at a discount. We also try to give a discount to the police.”
Atchley, owner of Larry’s Inman Street Car Wash, is considered a perceptive man of few words. But when he gives his word, it is as good as gold. That is his reputation, which he values as much as his business.
“Usually your first instinct is a pretty good lead to what choices to make when hiring people,” Atchley said. “You have to be a good judge of character. I’m old school — from the saying that ‘first impressions are lasting impressions.’ I go a lot on how that first conversation goes and take it from there.”
Behind his calculating eyes is a man who became skilled in analyzing others, estimating values and virtues as he learned to trust his instincts when making decisions about character and employment — a technique which has been advantageous to him over the years.
Also known for his fairness, Atchley said it is important to lead by example, which speaks louder than words and creates a standard in family life and business.
“I have to be here every day, and don’t take vacations,” he said with a laugh. “You have to be here and show them you’re willing to work, just like them. I’ll be 72 next month. I plan on working another four or five years. Then I plan to turn this over to my son.”
The soft-spoken father of five and grandfather of 11 said he believes his business has aesthetic value in the community, making transportation in Bradley County look its best, thus adding to the overall attractiveness of a clean city with a growing reputation. He also said there is a good reason why business picks up in cooler weather.
“Some in the summertime will wash their own automobiles,” he explained. “But in the winter time, not many people want to wash their own. Some people will come in and say ‘I haven’t washed my car in six months!’ So I say, ‘I appreciate your business twice a year.’”
His subtle sense of humor does not fall on deaf ears, as several patrons and authority figures seem to enjoy being in the company of a man who offers a hand up to many needing a hand or a second chance in life.
“I was part owner of a car wash in Chattanooga and this one became available. So I decided to go on my own and come to Cleveland. I’m glad I did. It’s been a good decision. When I first started it was only myself and another person. The Lord has blessed me,” said Atchley, who attends Westmore Church of God with his family.
Atchley, who has one of the longest-running, if not the longest, automotive detail services in Bradley County, agreed you can tell something about a person from the upkeep of their transportation. But with a soft smile and a stare, he decided against elaborating on any impression it makes.
“I forgot to tell you that this building has been here for more than 50 years,” he said.
Not one to seek attention, Atchley, a modest man of few words, has a chameleon-like skill of blending in to the point of disappearing from the public’s eyes. Unless, of course, someone is in need and he feels he can help. Then he appears as the man willing to give a person that second chance.