Valet service seeks to open parking, lure shoppers in La Grange
Valets Myles Cooke and Mike Trompeter wait for another car to pull up to their stand on La Grange Road near Bella Francesca's. | Steve Johnston~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 18, 2013 1:18AM
La Grange restaurant patrons and shoppers can arrive in style at no charge, but just until the end of the month.
The village and downtown businesses are experimenting with a plan to free up premium parking spaces during prime weekend hours aimed at employees as well as customers.
Valet parking is offered beginning at 3 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays on the east side of La Grange Road, between Prasino’s and Francesca’s. The service begins at 5 p.m. on the west side of the street in front of Nickson’s and on the south side of Calendar Avenue in front of Santiago’s.
Valets also work at the Prasino location after 5 p.m Thursdays.
The La Grange Business Association and the village are splitting the $3,500 a month cost in December and January of $3,500. The service is offered free, though tips are appreciated, organizers said.
An analysis of village parking spaces showed those most in demand are the 1,369 spots south of the Burlington Northern tracks, which includes the 368 spaces in the parking deck at 80 S. 6th Ave. Public parking less convenient north of the tracks boosts the total to nearly 1,800 spaces.
“It’s not that La Grange doesn’t have enough spaces; it’s just human nature that everyone wants the closest spot, and that causes problems,” said association President Steve Jasinski. “We’re trying to think outside the box.”
After serving La Grange for three years, Zach Cooke, co-owner of First Rate Valet, proposed a trial period of shuttling employees’ cars to outlying areas to free up prime spots for paying customers.
A study by downtown consultants Hyatt-Palma Group, based in Washington, D.C., estimates an on-street space generates $150 to $300 a day in sales in an average commercial downtown area. Conservatively, one spot could result in $200 a day or $70,000 in annual sales, village analysts noted.
“On a typical Friday and Saturday, we now have 30 employees using the valet service,” Cooke said. “That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s 30 spots turned over several times during the night. If each spot turns over three times that’s almost half a level of the parking garage. Every spot counts.”
Cooke estimates his eight valets in La Grange park at least 100 cars a night.
If the program isn’t subsidized, Cooke estimates it would cost motorists at least $5 for valet parking, excluding a tip.