Downing prefers limousines
It’s long, black, sleek and just drips rich.
The Lincoln stretch limousine takes pride of place amid the equally streamlined corporate jets in The Flight Department’s hangar at Garfield County Airport.
This is one of Stacey Downing’s five limos that make up the fleet of Preferred Limousines.
She chose the location because that’s where most of her business originates.
It can be a tough business at times, she said, what with cranky clients and tight time schedules, but Downing wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love the cars, that’s why I do it,” she said.
Downing has three stretch limos and two luxury four-by-four Suburbans with the same amenities as the limos – wet bar, TV, VCR. She also employs five drivers.
The stretch happens between the back door and the front seat. The smaller stretch is 71 inches from back door to front and the 120-inch “super stretch” is just that, super.
Super long, super luxurious.
A limo runs $85 an hour for six people, who fit nicely in the smaller stretch – what Downing calls a “six-pack” – and $125 for a “10-pack.”
She also offers a locals’ special, four hours for the price of three.
And what luxury. Step inside and you’re out of the real world and into deluxe. Settle into deeply cushioned black leather seats. Within arm’s reach, and built into the sides of the car, are the wet bar and a niche for champagne on ice. The television set rises from a hidden compartment.
Passengers ride on air, literally. When you settle into the seat, the car automatically adjusts its air shock absorbers to cushion the ride.
Downing was launched in the business in 1987 while living in Denver.
“I answered an ad for a private chauffeur,” she said.
She drove for a businessman and his family for about a year in a stretch Mercedes Benz limo.
“I picked up his dry cleaning and his girlfriend,” she said.
Downing grew up in the Rifle area. She went through two years at Glenwood Springs High School, then her mother moved the family to Denver in 1977.
She decided after the chauffeur job she’d like to go into business for herself. After three months of going from bank to bank, she finally secured financing to buy a used limo.
Limousines aren’t cheap. A second-hand limo can run $30,000 to $50,000, she said. New, they go for about $80,000.
“I started with one limo and went after the corporate market,” she said.
Most of the limo companies in Denver were after the wedding trade.
She hooked up with the bigger limo companies, however, providing backup when they were booked.
Downing also joined the state and national limousine associations, which send business to members from across the country.
In 1993, Downing moved back to the Rifle area to care for her ailing mother. She parked her business at the county airport.
Over the years the airport near Rifle has served as a diversion jetport for planes unable to land in Aspen during bad weather. Now more and more corporate jets call the airport home. Their passengers are often in need of transportation, which of course, must be done in style.
“About 70 percent of my business is from private jets,” she said.
Rich and richer, her clients have included celebrities, politicians, business moguls, diplomats, high school kids on prom nights and a few babies going home for the first time. She chauffeured a bottle of horse sperm to a local breeding ranch.
“Limos aren’t just for funerals anymore,” she said.
Mel Gibson was a passenger recently along with his family. He hired a stretch four-by-four, and another car to carry the luggage, she said.
“He was very nice. He rode in the luggage vehicle. He was very fun to talk to and very easy going,” she said.
Downing has had some wild rides as well. She recalled the first time a couple had sex in the back of her limo.
“I though I had a flat tire,” she said, when she felt the car rocking back and forth.
But when she pulled over, the car was still shaking and she put two and two together.
“It happens a lot with couples going from the wedding reception to the hotel,” she added.
In fact, it was partly wedding business from one client, Joyce Gornick, owner of Joy-Ann Creations, that helped keep Downing afloat after Sept. 11.
The aftermath of the terrorist attacks almost cost her the business when airports across the country were closed down for security reasons.
“Last year was really tough. I had to let the drivers go,” she said.
Business has now picked up thanks to this winter’s ski season.
“The business turned around. It was a short but sweet season,” she said.
Despite the ups and downs, Downing still loves her job. After all, she said, it gives her plenty of stories to tell.
“I always told myself I’m going to write a book when I retire,” she said.
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