Common Gentry Carriage Co. celebrates 25 years in business
Of style and substance
By EMMA PALOVA
Connie May Elsasser is the stylish woman behind The Common Gentry Carriage Co. of Sparta. Sitting at the dining table Elsasser showed her trophies and print publications including
a 1997 Parragone Corvette parts catalogue.
“They wanted to show the contrast in the beauty of both the Corvette car and the horse Tess,” she said. “Tess was the cover girl.
Today, Elsasser has an impressive fleet of five gentle Percherons and a slick town coach, a sleigh, a two-wheel cart, two romantic vis-à-vis carriages and two wagons.
She started the business by leasing one black standard bred horse Magic and buying a harness and a carriage in April of 1989 after working in a floral shop.
Elsasser stationed herself in front of the Amway Grand Plaza to give rides in downtown Grand Rapids. In May she called schools for proms and churches for weddings. Then she added festivals and fairs for a full time business.
“Within three years I needed more carriages,” she said.
She uses Amish built carriages in Indiana and buys Percherons from Amish breeders at auctions.
“They have that Cinderella look,” she said. “I sold the black horse and upgraded to vis-a-vis or face to face carriage.”
According to Elsasser, winter marriages are not that unusual, but proposals are more common in winters during holiday time for most families.
“It was like in a fairy tale,” said Jake Pala of Kalamazoo.
Pala recently went for a sleigh ride on the farm to get pictures for his wedding invitations and announcements with Maranda Ruegsegger.
The vis-à-vis wedding carriage is as romantic as it gets. The ride comes complete with a footman and a coachman dressed to the occasion in the turn-of-the-century swallow tail coats, champagne served in crystal goblets, a garland of flowers decorates the carriage along with a “just married” signage. The couple can also play their favorite song.
Elsasser offers carriage rides in downtown Grand Rapids area also in the classy 1880s Town Coach from England. The windows and doors have fancy curtains. The convertible coach seats four, and its kerosene lamps have been converted to electric.
Most of Elsasser’s business comes from weddings, but overall it can be a toss-up.
“It’s toss up between weddings and festivals,” she said.
The town rides can bring up to 69 jobs between the 14 weekends from May through July.
Misty eyed, Elsasser said after all these years she still gets emotional when she sees the groom and the bride leave the church as man and wife from her driver’s seat on the carriage.
“You don’t get rich in this business, because it’s seasonal, but you make a lot of people happy.”
She recalled one very creative proposal on Rosa Parks Circle where the gentleman rented skates and serenated the woman playing a guitar.
“Will you marry me,” he sang.
Her future plans include hosting wedding receptions and offering horse-drawn photo shoots on the expansive farm just outside of Sparta.
“I want to do more with schools and work with children who have special needs,” she said. “I also want to focus on family gatherings.”
Her vision is that children will benefit from the contact with the horses and share a common message of love, joy and laughter.
“I want to be a part of that,” she said.
To celebrate her 25th anniversary in business, Elsasser will offer a 20 percent discount, if customers mention this article as seen on EW Emma’s Writings on http://emmapalova.com
The historic carriage rides in downtown Grand Rapids run from April through November for half an hour for $60, and in the summertime for $40.
Elsasser also offers an exclusive hour tour through the downtown and Heritage Homes area.
“I talk about the history of the city en route,” Elsasser.
The tour comes with appetizers on the carriage, complete narration based on research. She highlights churches such as the oldest one St. Mark Church which is a mix of French and English gothic style with limestone exterior, and old furniture exhibit buildings.
Some of the ornate buildings on Monroe and Lyons streets and on Campau Square were built in the 1800s, and reflect rich furniture tradition of Grand Rapids.
“I studied history like crazy,” she said.
Her most popular events include the Venetian Festival in Charlevoix, Ionia Free Fair, Muskegon, Hastings and Marshall.
Out of all these activities, Elsasser still loves the weddings and the proposals the most for the romance, and for the moment of the day.
“I am the first person they get to see as a couple as Mr. & Mr,” she said. “Everybody gets so excited. For that day they are the royalty, they’re the queen and the king.”
Her partner Scott Banga helps maintain the fleet on the farm.
“Scott is a phenomenal horseman,” she said.
Banga worked with the famous Budweiser horses.
The Common Gentry Carriage Co. will be again at the Lowell Christmas activities.
“The horses are so elegant,” she said. “They’re substance with style.”
Percheron horse Pete weighs around 2,500 pounds and his mate is Tess. The horses have a champion bloodline. The dappled horses are born black, then they dapple out and turn white. They are members of the Percheron Associations of Michigan and USA.
You can come by appointment to the farm or to schedule an event call Connie Elsasser at 1-616-204-3190 or go to website: http://www.commongentry.com or on facebook page thecommongentrycarriagecompany.
Common Gentry Carriage Co. at
Percheron association of America at
Percheron Horse Association of Michigan
Copyright © 2014 story by Emma Palova