Weddings, funerals, nightclubs, upscale restaurants, hospitals, shopping malls and ball games attract large crowds of people looking to pay someone to park their cars.
Valet parking is “no longer a luxury — it’s a convenience,” said Shawn Cunningham, who runs American Valet with her brother, Michael Pendergrast. “It’s a booming business.”
But to do business in Scottsdale, valet companies must get a license, said Madeline Clemann, the city’s transportation services manager.
Applicants must prove they are insured, have contracts with the establishments they intend to serve and the companies from which they lease private parking spaces, Clemann said.
The city has issued 18 licenses, each good for one year, she said.
Of those, about half use a total of 58 public parking spaces with the city’s permission as staging areas — meaning they can use only those public spaces to receive and return vehicles, she said. Otherwise, they must park vehicles in privately owned parking lots those valet companies have contracted with.
Allowing those companies some public parking space is worth it because it frees up another 600 parking spaces, Clemann said.
“That’s a real benefit to the city. It frees up more space and brings more business,” she said.
If valet drivers park where they are not allowed, they can expect to be ticketed by the police department, which on the average issues about one citation a year to valet companies failing to follow that rule, Clemann said.
Scottsdale police Lt. Tom Henny, who oversees enforcement, said: “The system works quite well.”
Henny said the police department hasn’t experienced any problems with valet services despite high demand for parking and nightly crowds that fill downtown.
Steve Marks, who owns the downtown restaurant Bravo Bistro, said he’s been offering valet parking the past 10 years.
“Parking is definitely at a premium in the downtown area,” Marks said, adding parking limitations in downtown Scottsdale are the same in “every major city.”
Marks said most downtown restaurant and club managers consider valet parking an extension of their overall customer service.
Because parking is limited and the city regulates valet service, the valet business in Scottsdale is very competitive, Marks said.
“It’s all about the parking spaces. If you don’t have the parking spaces for your company, you don’t have a business,” Marks said.
“Competitive” is too mild a term to describe the action here, some say.
“It’s a cutthroat business. There are some companies out there that would do anything to get a place,” said Faraj Chehade, owner of 5th Ave. Valet.
Chehade founded his Scottsdale-based company eight years ago and has 16 employees. He said some valet companies will undercut their competitors, low-balling rates and, in some instances, giving away service.
“I don’t do that. I try to offer the service at a good price,” he said.
Chehade declined to say how much he charges his downtown Scottsdale clients, saying each account varies along with the price.
For the young men jockeying Saabs, BMWs, Escalades and Audis, the valet business can mean big cash in their pockets at the end of the day while enjoying the outdoors.
Tempe resident Mal Kenney, 29, started as a valet eight years ago because “it sounded like a good opportunity.” Today, he oversees 19 contracts for American Valet.
The average valet driver, Kenney said, can earn between $12 to $15 dollars per hour depending on the scope of the event.
The job itself is also gaining in popularity, Kenney said.
Working outside, driving a variety of vehicles and going home each night with cash in hand are appealing aspects of the job, he said.
Kenney said he believes the valet business is taking off because of the convenience it affords people.
Waiting for their vehicles on a recent afternoon outside Scottsdale Fashion Square, Scottsdale resident Judy Colburn and her daughters, Danita Bennett of Phoenix and Deidre Craig of Flagstaff, echoed that sentiment.
Colburn, who needs to have one of her hips replaced, said, “It’s just easier for me” to use valet services.
Besides the convenience factor, Craig said she uses valet services because of the economic support they provide those working in the business.
Craig said she typically tips valet drivers two dollars. She said she’s never had a bad experience using valet services.
For Bennett, using such services also provides a measure of security.
“I think its safer than walking in the parking lot. At least I know nobody is going to hit me over the head here,” Bennett said.