Inside Charlotte's prom limos

Plus: Kanye and Kim K. spotted in Monroe; South Carolina spy planes; chocolate lab wins Jenga and the internet

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Spending, selfies, alcohol: Limo owner gives the scoop on what all those teens are doing during prom

You’ve seen the group of 20 sharply dressed teens out to dinner. Or at least maybe their photos that parents shared on Facebook.

If it’s early May, it’s prom season. So what are teens up to at the prom these days? If you have a noncommunicative teenager at home, you might not know. So the Ledger turned to James Weymann, owner and founder of SilverFox Limos in Charlotte, for the scoop on what’s going on — and for insights into Charlotte’s limo industry.

They like bells and whistles: “They like all the fancy lights and the lasers, that kind of stuff,” Weymann says. Music is important. Many limos come equipped with Bluetooth sound systems so passengers can stream their own music.

A lot of limos have features including Bluetooth sound systems, TVs and DirecTV. Some vehicles have Wi-Fi and charging ports — must-have equipment for teens and their phones.

Short stays: Weymann says it seems as though teens these days are staying at the dance for less time than they used to. Often, they will head to a house party or just cruise around town. “They used to stay the whole night. But now, the groups who have the money to get the limos, they want to get back in the car and crank up the music and get on social media.”

Sound of silence: With teens in limos, Weymann’s drivers keep the divider down to keep an eye on things. But often, he says, there’s little going on: “Sometimes you hear nothing but the music. Nobody is talking to each other. They are posting pictures of themselves. They used to be back there singing. But now, it’s quiet. The music is cranked up and everybody is on their phones.”

Alcohol smuggling: This time of year, Weymann’s company handles about six prom groups per weekend. About once a year, his drivers will bust somebody with alcohol. “We check the guys’ pockets, their jackets. The girls and guys, they have to store their purses and book bags in the trunk. They can’t get it out during the ride.” His drivers also ask parents for a list of approved stops, to ensure the limo doesn’t make a pitstop at a buddy’s house to grab something teens shouldn’t have.

Costly night: National surveys have shown that prom can be costly. A 2015 survey by Visa found that the average teen attending prom planned to spend $919. In the South, the total was below the national average, at $849. The cost of the “promposal” — the relatively new and elaborate ritual of inviting a date to the prom — accounted for about one-third of that total, the survey showed. Those numbers sound high, but they are based on a statistically valid telephone survey conducted by a major public opinion firm.

Besides limos, party buses are popular for proms. (Photos courtesy of SilverFox Limos.)

For limos, prices on Weymann’s web site for the next two weekends start at $475 for six hours with a four-passenger sedan to $1,700 for a 20-to-24-passenger luxury party bus.

As for the Charlotte limo industry, Weymann says it’s healthy — especially for established companies like his with big fleets of vehicles (he has 45). About 70% of his business is corporate work, and the rest of his business is renting out party buses, limos and luxury SUVs to groups of friends.

He says he has a diverse book of business, such as concerts, weddings, winery tours, brewery tours, as well as special events such as the Wells Fargo Championship, Coca-Cola 600 and the Queen’s Cup Steeplechase. Transportation contracts with the Ballantyne Hotel, the Westin Charlotte and the Hilton Charlotte Center City help give predictability, he says.

Overall, he says, it’s a good business to be in: “I love it. I never get tired of it. If you’re an insurance salesman or car salesman, not everybody wants what you’re selling. But everybody loves being driven somewhere. That’s the enjoyable part of it.”

South Carolinians could start building spy planes

The Daily Beast reports that the government of Qatar is eyeing a big investment in South Carolina to develop and produce military surveillance aircraft. The site is unknown, but it would make sense to be in the Charleston area, near Boeing’s plant. It sounds like as much of a political investment as an economic one:

The project, led by Qatari-owned firm Barzan Aeronautical, has been in the planning stages for the last several years. Qatari officials have visited South Carolina, where the firm is registered, to meet with state and local officials to promote the idea of investment and to garner support for the project. …

Qatari officials visited South Carolina in 2018 to meet Boeing, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Gov. Henry McMaster to discuss [Qatar’s] interest in investing in the state. Graham and McMaster’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Executives with Barzan Aeronautical did not comment on the record for this story.

Qatar’s increasing financial footprint in the U.S. comes as the country attempts to find a sturdier political foothold in Washington following its two-year long blockade by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


Loves me some internet

A 5-month-old chocolate lab named Remy dominates Jenga:

Remembering Pike’s

Pike’s Old Fashioned Soda Shop in South End is no Hotel Charlotte or other genuinely historic site that Charlotte has bulldozed in favor of things that are new.

By itself, the closing of Pike’s, reported this week, is not a huge loss in a big city with thousands of restaurants. Pike’s owners say they plan to relocate, and perhaps they will. But in South End, rents are rising, and older and distinctive restaurants can’t hang on, as taco shops, chain restaurants, breweries and luxury apartments move in.

The trend is a twist on gentrification: Instead of pushing out poor residents, the influx of monied millennials is pushing out cash-poor businesses — many of them distinctive and locally owned.

Of course, if these restaurants were really as beloved as people like to claim when one of them closes, they would be forever packed with customers and able to afford the skyrocketing rents. Restaurants also close all the time, for various reasons, and owners of buildings get to decide which tenants stay and which hit the road.

But it might be nice, once in a while, to hang onto something with character. And good root beer floats.

Charlotte celeb sighting: Kim and Kanye

NBC Charlotte reporter Rachel Lundberg is ON IT this morning:

In brief

  • Funky hot tub: A couple hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease after going in a hot tub in an N.C. mountain cabin they found on Airbnb can continue a lawsuit against the cabin’s owners, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled this week. State and local health officials found that it was likely that stagnant water in the improperly sanitized hot tub caused the illness, which is a severe form of pneumonia. The cabin is in Burke County, near Morganton.

  • Law firm moving: The Charlotte offices of Parker Poe are moving to the new Bank of America Tower at uptown’s Legacy Union site, the Biz Journal reported. Other tenants there include BofA and KPMG. Parker Poe will have “branding” on the tower, and Parker Poe will have “signage” (more commonly known as a “sign”).

  • Biotech company to Concord: Hydromer Inc. is moving from New Jersey, creating 33 jobs, the Biz Journal says. It makes polymers for heart stents. The Charlotte region has added more than 1,100 jobs in life sciences in the last five years, the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance’s Chuck McShane said on Twitter.

  • Can interim CEO become permanent?At Wells Fargo, Executives Push for Interim CEO to Keep Job” (Bloomberg) Ledger take: not likely.

  • Red Hat-IBM deal OK’d: The Justice Department approved IBM’s $34B purchase of Raleigh-based software company Red Hat, according to WRAL TechWire.

  • Charlotte: a baseball city? Baseball America sizes us up: “Examining Charlotte As A Possible City For MLB Expansion.”

  • No Charlotte tax increase: Charlotte’s proposed budget has no tax increase but boosts spending on affordable housing and finds money to finish the Cross Charlotte Trail (WFAE). Taxes will still rise for many because of property revaluation, and water bills will go up. Funny how the city, which has elections this year, is holding the line on taxes while the county, which does not have elections this year, is raising them.

Off the Clock

Low-key ideas for the weekend

Movies opening in Charlotte this weekend:
  • Pokemon Detective Pikachu (PG) (71% on Rotten Tomatoes): Pokemon tracks missing detective

  • Tolkien (PG-13) (50%): Author has life experiences

  • The Hustle (PG-13): Con artists swindle France

  • Poms (PG-13): Retirees form cheerleading squad

Highly rated movies now playing:
  • Avengers: Endgame (PG-13) (95%)

  • Shazam (PG-13) (90%)

  • Long Shot (R) (82%)

  • Captain Marvel (PG-13) (78%)

  • Breakthrough (PG) (65%)

Cheap getaways from CLT:
  • Charlotte to Orlando, $76 round-trip on Frontier (nonstop), May 18-20.

  • Charlotte to Providence, $101 round-trip on Frontier (nonstop), May 31-June 3.

  • Memorial Day: Charlotte to Fairbanks, Alaska, $470 round-trip on United (one-stop), May 23-27.

  • July 4 Week: Charlotte to Panama City, Panama, $346 round-trip on Spirit (one-stop), June 27-July 4.

  • Farther out: Charlotte to Fort Lauderdale, $108 round-trip on Spirit (nonstop), Aug. 23-26.

  • Farther out: Charlotte to Albuquerque, $163 round-trip on American (one-stop), many dates August-February

  • Labor Day weekend: Charlotte to Detroit, $148 round-trip on American or Delta (nonstop), Aug. 31-Sept. 3

Source: Google Flights. Fares retrieved Wednesday morning. They might have changed by the time you read this.

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.