Sonoma’s iconic taxi brand is up for sale
One of Sonoma’s most iconic businesses, Vern’s Taxi, is for sale.
For 20 years, Vern’s Taxi has transported elderly grocery shoppers, patients headed to doctor appointments and, of course, over-served bar patrons. But current owner Marc Gardella says he is ready to hand over the keys to his fleet of 10 sedans and vans and try his hand at something new.
Gardella bought the locally iconic tax business from founder Vern English just four years ago. And what a four years it has been. The Sonoma Valley High graduate - class of 1983 - has steered the company through the fires, the power outages and, now, the temporary shutdown of Sonoma’s tourism industry, thanks to the COVID-19 health crisis.
Not to mention the relentless growth of the rideshare industry.
While rideshare data is not available for Sonoma Valley, in the past decade since Uber launched in 2010 in San Francisco, taxis went from having a monopoly on short-hop transportation to providing a fraction of all trips. On a typical weekday, ride-hail vehicles make more than 170,000 vehicle trips within San Francisco, approximately 12 times the number of taxi trips, according the city’s transportation authority in 2017. Rideshare companies arrived in the Valley in 2014.
Gardella is asking $450,000 for the business, which includes the Vern’s brand, 10 vehicles, a list of vetted drivers and the lease on the Vern’s Taxi command post on First Street East across from the ballfields. He noted that the longtime manager of the taxi business, Edie Titus, plans to move on to other opportunities once the business is sold.
Gardella conceded that business was “slow” right now, but he is optimistic that demand for taxi services will rebound.
“We’ll be busy again, eventually,” he said, and suggested that the downturn could cause some of his competition - drivers from Lyft and Uber - to abandon Sonoma Valley.
“Vern’s was here before Uber and Lyft and will outlast them,” said Gardella.
He said that the arrival of rideshares in the Valley did affect the business but that Vern’s has a number of established accounts, including relationships with the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, the Lodge at Sonoma, several assisted living communities and most of the bars in town.
“We’re the only company open overnight and you can always rely on us for a 5 a.m. ride to the airport,” he said. “In Sonoma, you never know for sure if there will be a Lyft or Uber nearby, but you can count on Vern’s.”
His other competition in town includes Sonoma Taxi, a half dozen limo companies and dozens of independent drivers who offer errand and airport runs.
Gardella described this as the perfect time for a transition.
“A slow period is a great time to start the process of handing over the business to someone new,” he said. “They can learn everything and be up and running when things pick up again in Sonoma.”
Email Lorna at firstname.lastname@example.org.