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For Norwich auto detailer, there's 'no buff too tuff'

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Norwich — Joe DiFiore found himself staring down a Pontiac Grand Am in which flounder had been stuffed underneath the back seat and into the seatbelts, and then topped with woodchips. Fish and chips, he calls it.

It was allegedly the work of a woman seeking to spite her partner amid a split. She left the piscine nightmare on her ex's lawn while he was away on vacation for a week in the '90s. He returned and went to DiFiore with his problem. The maggots in the car started crawling up DiFiore's arm.

This was not why DiFiore got into auto detailing.

But several weeks later, and at a cost of several hundred dollars, he had the car clean.

On the DiFiore's Auto Detailing website, DiFiore advertises more routine services, like paint restoration, scratch removal and steam cleaning of the interior. "No buff too tuff" reads the back of one of his t-shirts.

He's celebrating 30 years in business, and that's plenty of time to amass some strange stories.

DiFiore, 57, considers himself a pioneer, learning over the decades through trial and error, imagination and listening to clients.

He has been doing auto detailing since before it was considered a trade or an industry: Detailers Digest has only been around since 1999, and the International Detailing Association — DiFiore is chairman of its membership committee — formed in 2008.

Washing, waxing and vacuuming the car was one of his childhood chores — and it was his favorite. DiFiore liked making things shiny and working outdoors.

He began doing auto detailing for extra money in Cleveland, where he grew up.

It was submarine service — he served in the Navy from 1979 to 1984 — that brought DiFiore to southeastern Connecticut. He then built a garage behind his home on 60 Maple St. and opened shop.

DiFiore was raising children and doesn't believe that two parents should be going to work, so it made since for him and his then-wife to be working from their backyard. The job also fit with his ideals.

"I don't want to work for corporate America. I don't want to work for the government," he said. "I want freedom."

In recent years, that freedom has meant that he can close for a few months during the winter. He just started up again on March 12, after closing for the season in mid-December.

The biggest driver of DiFiore's Auto Detailing at its inception, DiFiore said, was socioeconomic. He looked around and saw a disconnect between the paycheck and the car payment.

"People were keeping their cars longer, and it was also the age of vanity, in the '80s," he said. People keeping their cars longer meant they were more inclined to pay for detailing, and so the services began to extend beyond wealthy businesspeople and into the general population.

'I like my car clean'

One day last week, DiFiore and his partner, Robin Greene, were finishing up routine maintenance on a red Ford F-150. The 2014 truck was so shiny it looked like it should've been sitting on an exhibition rotating platform at a dealership.

Its owner, Dr. Michael Betten, has been going to DiFiore's for his car detailing for 28 years. When Betten worked as a physician, DiFiore picked up his vehicle — always a red truck — at his office. Now that Betten is retired, DiFiore comes to his home in Bozrah.

"To me it's a reflection on the individual," Betten said. "If you're sloppy in your life, if you're not clean in your life, it's a reflection on you, so I like my car clean."

Betten said he appreciates that DiFiore has kept up with modern techniques in the field.

DiFiore can tell you all about ceramic coatings and spray sealant, and organic encapsulation chemicals he uses, and how he can buff a car from 8 inches down to 1 inch.

"He's addicted to this, you know what I mean?" said Greene, DiFiore's partner in both business and in life. "And some customers are addicted to this."

Greene has been working at DiFiore's since 2013. She graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University with a degree in accounting but struggled to find a job within an hour's drive, and DiFiore taught her everything about his work.

"Joe's not a car guy," she said, echoing his own admission. "He just likes making people happy."

e.moser@theday.com

Business Snapshot

Business: DiFiore's Auto Detailing

Where: 60 Maple St., Norwich

Owner: Joseph DiFiore

Hours: 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Friday

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