PORTLAND, Maine — When Tom Toye opened Thrifty Car Rental and Thrifty Airport Parking at the Portland International Jetport in 1970, he had a few acres of land, a small handful of cars, and a novel idea: offer valet parking to airport commuters.
“I’m not sure people really understood what valet parking was back in those days,” said Toye, a Cape Elizabeth resident for more than 20 years. “They just thought it was going to be more expensive.”
Now, four decades later, and 15 years after he got out of the parking business, Toye is back with Park’N Jet, which opened last month at the same spot, 1000 Westbrook St.
He’s gotten rid of the rental cars, but otherwise the business model hasn’t changed: affordable airport parking, with a few little luxuries available, too.
Toye leased his facility to Alamo Rent a Car in 1998 and shifted his focus to other projects. Alamo later shared the lot with National Car Rental and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, all three of which are owned by Enterprise Holdings.
But when Enterprise purchased a lot down the street and moved the businesses in October, Toye was left without tenants.
So he got back in the game.
Now, for $10 dollars a day, Park N’Jet customers get valet parking, shuttle service from the lot to the airport, and a snow-cleared, pre-heated (or cooled, depending on the season) car when they return.
It’s a far cry from the $1 a day Toye charged back in 1970, but it’s still $2 a day cheaper than on-site long-term parking at the airport. Patrons can pay extra to have their cars washed and detailed, and, beginning in January, oil changes and state inspections will be available.
“The business travelers really like that a lot,” Toye said. “They can get all that done while they’re gone, and after three or four days of traveling, it’s one less chore they have to deal with.”
Toye’s business hasn’t changed much over the years, but the Jetport has, most notably through a $75 million expansion that was completed in 2011.
“The airport’s doing nearly 30 percent more passengers than it did back in ’97 when I was operating,” Toye said. “I think the chances for my success to get back to where it was 15, 16 years ago, should be relatively good.”
A lifelong entrepreneur, Toye, 64, has kept himself busy with a variety of projects.
Most recently, he’s locked horns with the state in a bid to keep the Department of Labor and Department of Health and Human Services as his tenants on Lancaster Street in Portland. Those offices are headed to a new location, coincidentally, near the Jetport. He’s also working on apartment complexes in Hampton and Hooksett, N.H., and looking to develop several buildings on Munjoy Hill.
The airport parking business, however, holds a special place in his heart.
“It’s probably foolish to say, but it makes me relive my youth,” he said. “I feel like I’m starting over again. Getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning and opening the office at 5 o’clock. Running around, hauling people’s luggage, driving the bus and all those little pieces. I guess it makes me feel younger.”