In the business of moving people around, taxis haul
• Taxi companies enjoy thriving market in Homer
by Naomi Klouda
After 20 years as a Homer taxi driver, Nick Bairamis took on a semi-retired lifestyle this summer. He sold his taxi business, but kept a cab and still works Homer’s streets five nights a week.
Josh Cooper purchased Kostas Taxi – along with four cabs – and currently employs 10 full-time drivers for seven-day-a-week, 24-hour service.
“I had the oldest cab company and I am the oldest cab driver in town,” Bairamis said in his trademark heavy Greek accent.
He explained that full retirement is complicated, because it would involve a break from Homer.
“We’re building a house in Greece, so I’ll go there, but I’ll be here a lot, too,” he said. “Homer is more my home. I have more friends here than in my hometown (of Vathy). I keep my one cab. I drive it five or six nights a week.”
There’s apparently enough business in Homer to not only keep Bairamis from retirement, but also keep five taxi companies plenty busy.
Kachemak Cab operates four cabs and also employs about 10 people. Chux Taxi owner Shane John took on a new partner, co-owner Daryn Holmes, and plans on buying a third car. Newcomer Brandon Lovelace, spotting a need for another taxi out on the road while he worked for Kostas, started up a cab company of his own.
The advantage here for taxi companies is that there is no public transportation, so all state vouchers for rides are handled by the taxi companies. They also function as the town’s delivery service, dropping off flowers, bringing groceries for shut-ins and delivering food from restaurants.
And they’re also in the business of moving people around.
Mark Cooper, son John and brother-in-law, Nick Bairamis
It was Baraimis who first started the free “New Years Eve service” in 2000. The program offered free rides home for all bar patrons who may have imbibed a bit too much on the holiday. Baraimis said not one DWI arrest has resulted on New Year’s Eve in the past five years.
Josh Cooper, 29, plans to keep the tradition going by once again offering free rides on New Year’s. Cooper is from an old Homer family (Baraimis married his aunt, Toy). His grandfather, John Cooper, operated the Kachemak Bowling Alley for much of its 50-year history, while his father, Mark Cooper, is the current operator of Kachemak Bowl. Being part of Homer’s history is something the younger Cooper is proud of as he and his wife welcome their first child in a few months. The current bowling alley was built where John and Phyllis Cooper had their first Homer home. Previously, the bowling alley, started in 1959 in Old Town, was a four-laner situated next to Duggan’s. A parking lot now sits where the building once stood.
Josh Cooper also found another niche for Homer transportation. The long, white limo parked in front of his dad’s bowling alley has been up for rent since last summer.
“I do the proms and the weddings, but mostly it’s been kids’ parties,” he said regarding the limousine. “The limo is really hot for that.”
This ability to branch out and fill niches means some businesses will find success – even in a toiling economy.
“People will always need rides,” Cooper explained.
Once he heard his uncle talk of retiring, Cooper said he talked him into letting him buy the business.
“It’s a busy business that he kept going for a long time,” he said. “I hated to see him shut it down.”
Another longtime taxi business operating in Homer is Kachemak Cab, owned by Chris Fischer.
Fischer owns four cabs, and first bought the business eight years ago from Richard Everett. He employs about nine people and also offers service seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
And while Homer doesn’t have tight regulations on cabs, Fischer says the free-market system has worked well on its own.
“In Anchorage, they regulate all of it. They limit the number of taxis that can be on the street and they only let out so many permits,” he said. “They don’t do that here. The free market is operating the way it’s supposed to. When I started here nine years ago, the charge was $1.50 per mile with a $3 minimum. Now it’s $2.50 per mile and a $5 minimum. That’s not much of a price increase.”
Fischer believes that the learning curve – when it comes to staying in business in Homer – involves people-sensitivity more than anything else. “A lot of the job is getting to know the people you pick up,” he explained. “They want the regularity. That’s a lot different from what you would find in a city.”
Fischer said several of the people he picks up on a regular basis today, were ones he started picking up eight years ago.
Still, there was plenty of room for newcomers to break into the business. Brandon Lovelace moved to Alaska in August 2008 to be with his mother, Gail Dixon. He had driven cab in Denver, then here in Homer for Kostas.
“I noticed some calls weren’t being handled quickly, that there was a need for one more car out there,” Lovelace said.
He said he thought of starting up a cab business in Denver, but found there was too much red tape.
“If there are something like 15 cabs and only 15 permits, then you can’t get a foot in the door,” Lovelace said. “The public has to say there is a need for more.”
In order to start up a business during a time of economic disadvantages, Lovelace said he’s keeping his overhead low for now.
“I know how to be practical,” he said. “That’s what it takes.”
Lovelace is starting off with one cab, and is currently offering free Monday rides to customers to get more familiar with the community.
Shane John and Daryn Holmes of Chux Cab