By Ellis Nassour
Sharon A. Carr, the co-founder of travel site American Concierge and a Broadway investor says, “My father taught me from an early age that the best gift he could give me was the gift of travel. He started me traveling when I was nine.”
Carr took him seriously, because she’s been doing it ever since. Her father was a well-regarded Chicago working actor. She owes her siren calls to travel and theater to him. For Carr, they’ve become the best of all possible worlds.
A first trip to Europe at age 14 laid the foundation for starting the luxury tour service which designs highly-customized guided itineraries to Paris. The word “concierge” is important, because instead of selling one-off tours, patrons are escorted by 12 multi-lingual ex-pats who know their way around The City of Lights and its environs. Once a tour is created, everything—airport and hotel pickups, dinner reservations, entry fees to a variety of experiences including a three-hour night tour with guide in a luxury SUV, as well as special-interest visits (cooking lessons, wine and cheese tastings)—is in the hands of the concierge, who provides intimate knowledge of the city they call home.
Travel has become part of Carr’s DNA. It began after high school when she became an exchange student in Germany. Then, while in university, she was accepted into a program that allowed a semester working at New York’s Henry Street Settlement Playhouse. Her final semester was at the University of West Berlin. She remained in Europe two years, where she met and married a U.S. Naval officer stationed with NATO in Italy. When the marriage ended, she settled in New York and worked with the once storied Westbeth Theater Center in Greenwich Village, a major Off-Broadway force.
It was travel, theater, travel, theater, travel, until 1977, when at 26, Carr made a major shift, joining American Banknote Company (now ABCorp.), a world leader in engraving and printing currency, traveler’s checks, stock certificates, bonds, and government security documents. There, she rose to become the first female vice president in the firm’s 200-year history. It also led to meeting and, in 1983, marrying David Carr. She acquired two step-daughters and together, they have a son.
LIFE IS TOO SHORT
But 9/11 changed Carr’s outlook on life. Residing at Beekman and Nassau Streets, she explains, “I was an eyewitness to the tragedy. It affected me deeply and made me realize that life is too short. It should be about joy and what in my heart I wanted to do. That led me back to what’s inherently in my bones.”
Carr fortuitously befriended French artists Michel and Cathy Dejean, whose permanent home is in Strasbourg. “They generously gave me the keys to their Paris pied-a-terre. I stayed for six weeks as part of a six-month revisit to my past, to better understand my present and how to move into my future. I met incredibly-educated Americans, Madison King and Richard Westmeyer, each married to French women with whom they had children. The guys were having a hard time integrating into the work force. Their only jobs were teaching English a few hours a week for little pay.”
Luckily for Carr, they had a lot of free time. “Madison and Richard became the eyes and ears of Paris for me, showing me sides of the city I never knew. Soon, we were the three musketeers. By the time it came for me to move on, I, too, was an expert.”
Over the next few years, the Dejean’s continued to extend apartment privileges. “It’s a kind of exchange program, but an unfair one,” laughs Carr. “I’m in Paris several times a year and they’ve only come to New York three times in the last eight years.”
A THEATRICAL VENTURE
In 2005, separated from her husband, Carr was introduced to theater investing. For her first venture, she raised 35 percent of the budget for an Off-Broadway show. A few million dollars and nine Broadway and Off-Broadway shows later, she’s won two Tony Awards for the 2013 revival of Pippin and this year’s Best Musical, The Band’s Visit.
However, she never lost sight of Paris. On the last night of a January 2015 visit, she and her four Parisian friends attended the final performance of the musical An American in Paris at the Théâtre Châtelet. “The next day we were out shopping and running about,” she recalled. “At the end of the day, I looked at Richard and said, ‘There’s a business in this. An American in Paris: At Your Service.’ He loved the idea and toot sweet, we were in.”
In the early stages, Carr saw her mission as filling a niche. “I thought of women my age who had a desire to spend time in Paris on their bucket list. Because of Airbnb’s, many tourists aren’t staying in hotels. They want to stay longer, but don’t have benefit of hotel concierge services.”
As Carr and company developed American Concierge, they learned people wanted more than just “a pal around Paris,” so they sought certified guides with an intimate knowledge of the city’s culture. “Always with the accent on American, thus our tag line: By Americans living in Paris for Americans visiting Paris.’”
A BRIGHT FUTURE
The company’s now registered in France, with Guy Didier, a pilot and award-winning organist as well as former president and CEO of Paramount Pictures, as chairman. Carr’s business and life partner Ivan Zatkovich, heads eCompConsultant, which provides witnesses in legal matters involving intellectual property and patent litigation. Her son, Michael, is COO.
“We’ve invested in serious marketing and advertising,” Carr points out, “and are hoping to break even this year. The good news is that Paris has become popular year-round.”
When she was successful in business, Carr stayed, dined, and shopped in luxe places. “That was always part of me,” she asserts. However, today my situation is different. I’m grateful to be in Paris in a third-story walk up for weeks at a time. I use the Metro or hop on a bicycle. There’s no view of the Eiffel Tower or the Seine, but I have all of Paris at my feet.”
For more information on American Concierge, visit americoncierge.com.