Parking Heaven

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Need your car washed? An audiotape to help you pass the time in traffic? An oil change? Forget the strip mall. If you are a commuter in a growing number of cities, you need go no farther than the local parking garage near your office or airport.

In Minnesota, the St. Paul Port Authority has completed work on its $20 million, 900-space Capital City Parking Garage, which offers monthly parkers such amenities as video- and audiotape rentals, car washes and car repairs--including a jump-start service for stalled vehicles. "The idea is to park your car and not have to go out and brave Minnesota weather," explains Tom Collins, spokesman for the authority.

Marcie Brooke, 57, director of the Working Family Resource Center in St. Paul, moved her car from another garage to the new one. She pays $160 a month--"the same as before, but I'm receiving a lot more," she says. "It's nice to know these services are there, especially the starter service, with winter coming."

APCOA/Standard Parking, which operates all the garages at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, will inflate flat tires, replace missing keys, locate lost cars and even buy gifts for those in a rush to pick up a traveler. Parkers using the airport's valet service can order gifts from eight airport concessionaires and have the items waiting when they return to the car. "You can order roses, a box of Fannie Mae candy and a Barbie doll, and have it all waiting on your front seat for you when you get in," says Deborah Capraro, a deputy commissioner of the airport. "It's all about customer service and trying to give the customers what they want."

The Garage at Boston's Post Office Square offers parkers a dry-cleaning service. Garage employees walk through checking windshield stickers for expiration dates on federally required emissions tests and leaving reminders to those whose inspections are about to expire.

In Century City, Calif., on the fashionable west side of Los Angeles, monthly parkers at 1999 Avenue of the Stars get twice-a-year doughnuts and coffee and an annual Halloween pumpkin-carving contest. At another garage, in downtown L.A., parkers can have their shoes shined while they go shopping, and if they are tenants in the building, their shoes can be picked up at the office and returned there.

"Such amenities are a growing trend--depending on new construction and where you live," says Kim Jackson, director of professional development at the International Parking Institute, an industry association based in Fredericksburg, Va. Even in the current recession, Jackson says, she expects the trend to continue, noting, "People may start putting more amenities in just to keep parkers coming into their garages, especially in the bigger cities." Indeed, while these amenities make money for small businesses like dry cleaners, the garages say they get no markups or commissions. They see the services as a way to attract customers.

Michael Wolf, executive vice president of Chicago-based APCOA/Standard, says his garage-management firm began offering Books-to-Go services in 1998, then Film-to-Go in 1999, and now offers varying amenities at about 900 of the 2,000 facilities it operates nationwide. Among them are video- and audiotape rentals, umbrellas for loan on rainy days, windshield cleaning and special auto-repair arrangements. Their newest amenity is a Little Parkers program that gives toys like coloring books and bubble bottles to monthly commuters with children in tow.

APCOA/Standard is running an annual contest to encourage its employees to think up new amenity programs. Says Wolf: "It doesn't take much just to say we appreciate your business."