Art has no plans to retire
Businessman Art Riviere isn’t one for hobbies. Keeping cars clean is what gets the 78-year-old going.
As the owner of Bull’s Head Car Wash he’s in and out of the business, keeping an eye on staff — and customers.
“A lot of people are claustrophobic,” he said. “Anytime we have a customer who is claustrophobic, we will take the car through for them.
“We had an incident once, this woman got halfway through then we saw the car shoot right out of the carwash. We said, “What happened?’ She said it was going too slow for her.”
He has no plans to retire.
“I just haven’t found anyone else of my calibre to take over,” he said.
He built the carwash in 2003 on land inherited by his wife, Sharon.
There was initially a huge outpouring of interest, a mechanical carwash in Bermuda was an oddity at that time.
But then came the economic downturn of 2009.
“We lost about 5,000 expats and our volume went down,” he said. “We could see it.
“The mums who would be taking their kids to school, then stop here ... we’re not seeing that so much now.”
But he’s determined to keep going.
He grew up in Roseau, Dominica. His parents, Davidson Riviere and Madeline Delahay, weren’t married.
His father managed a large estate for an American; his mother moved to St Kitts soon after he was born, and then to England.
“I didn’t meet her until I was in my 40s,” he said.
He was raised by his paternal family.
His grandfather, William Riviere, died after a fall from a horse when Mr Riviere was little.
His grandmother, Etheline Riviere, ran a grocery store to support their large family.
“She was our kingpin,” he said.
Inspired by her, he decided early on that he wanted to have his own business one day.
“I felt I wanted to be in control of my destiny,” he said. “I didn’t want anyone to tell me how much I was worth.”
So at 20 he migrated to the United States to seek his fortune, but first stopped off in Bermuda for a couple of weeks to visit a cousin living here.
It was then he met his future wife, Sharon Dismont.
“She had family in the United States,” he said. “It just so happened that when she was getting ready to go to the United States to go to school, her aunt and my aunt lived in the same apartment building on the same floor. So our friendship continued.”
After three years, he was called to join the US Army as part of the Vietnam War and sent to a French airbase.
“My grandmother passed during that time and I wasn’t able to go home,” he said. “I was stationed on a base that maintained aircraft.
“Thank God I didn’t have to go to the frontline.
“Before I migrated to the United States I didn’t know that you had to serve, but if you were not a US citizen you would not be sent to any place America was giving military aid to. That was in my favour.”
In 1966, he was offered American citizenship but, fearing that would lead to being sent to Vietnam, he declined.
“I did inactive duty, where you just had to spend a couple of weeks a year serving,” he said.
He and Ms Dismont exchanged letters throughout that period. On August 8 they will celebrate 52 years of marriage.
“She always says she was a mail bride,” Mr Riviere laughed.
Back in Dominica, he would often help a neighbour to work on boats and bikes.
While living with his wife and daughters Danielle and Denise in New York and later Boston, he studied electronics. Today he handles a lot of the carwash’s mechanical maintenance and repairs himself. The Rivieres returned to Bermuda to live in 1984.
Five years later they opened The Wok restaurant on Bermudiana Road.
Mr Riviere didn’t know anything about Chinese food, but he hired people who did.
“I started bringing in my own supplies, things like rice and cooking wine,” he said. “That put my food cost down about 40 per cent.”
Supermarkets recognised the opportunity and started selling similar dishes.
“That took a big chunk of our profits,” Mr Riviere said.
In 2002, they sold the restaurant to focus on the carwash.
Mr Riviere confesses that he’s often so busy he forgets to wash his own.
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