GTPulse: Getting Around Town By Pedicab

From cerulean blue waters in the Maldives to colorful paper lanterns that illuminate alleyways in Thailand, Jessica Messer has been all over the world.

“I actually told my mom when I was 15 that I was going to be a PR director for a resort in Mexico. I was going to own a villa in Bali and retire. That was my life at 15. I had already decided. I got my degree in hospitality management and managed retail while I was going to college, and then I got a job where I met Michelle, my business partner, doing essentially PR for a travel brand. So instead of one hotel in one country, I’ve been to 43 countries, 34 states, almost all of the continents, so I was like, Mom, this actually turned out to be better than what I dreamt for myself.”

The travel job, naturally, was wonderful. She got to experience sights and adventures that have made her and her travelers wonderful memories. She is still creating memorable experiences for guests, but now in a different kind of way. She co-owns Happytown Rickshaws where she takes people all over Traverse City.

While working as a travel concierge she met her business partner Michelle Corteggiano.  The idea for a rickshaw company sprang from their travels and they partnered with Tawny Hammond from The River Outfitters to make it happen.

“We’ve both been to New Orleans and Key West and places in Asia with rickshaws and tuk-tuks. Traverse City is so green and outdoorsy and bicycle-friendly. We have a designated driver business so it was like, what else can we do? We said, ‘let’s buy some pedicabs.’ Throw it against the wall, see if it sticks.”

The company has just begun its second season and both business owners are pleased with the excitement and popularity it generated last year. Tourists and locals both responded positively to the tours and to using the rickshaws for more casual use around town as well.

“So the first tour we do is called the high five tour which is the five major parts of downtown Traverse City. It’s kind of like the hop on hop off where we point out all of the cool places to go, where to eat, what to do and now you kind of got a little layout of the town. So, that tour covers the Marina, Front Street, the Warehouse District, the Commons and Old Town.  We also offer foodie tours. There’s a savory one, a sweet one, a combined one. We also offer drinking tours on the cabs. We just made a new one where we’re taking all of the Instagram-able locations around town. The wings, the murals, the Traverse City sign over off State Street Market.”

Tours must be scheduled in advance but quick rides can be done, well, quick. 

“As a taxi service, you can give us a call. Like if you were at Dillingers or something and wanted to see if we were available in 10 minutes we can do that. The tours have to be scheduled through our website.”

 My questions for Jessica were, isn’t it hard? How are you not out of breath the entire time? The answer is that the rickshaws have a motor, taking some of the physical stress off of her. That’s not to say that hills are always a walk in the park.

“If you’re coming from a dead stop, you’re going to put in a little bit of work there. Or if you’re going up one of these hills over by the Commons, you’re going to be huffing,” she said with a laugh. “So, you get up to the top of the hill at the Commons and you tell people, ‘take in the sight, take it all in…and let me catch my breath so I can tell you about the Commons.”

With parts of Front Street closed off to vehicles, Jessica is unsure if the rickshaws will be allowed on those sectioned-off blocks. They’re considered motorized bicycles, not vehicles.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to get through with the way it is right now, but if the city allows bicycles to ride through there, then we can.”

She also is the owner of Poppy’s Original Party bus, a retro-fabulous van that she rents out as a photo booth.

“It’s my pet project. I felt like I wanted to own one so I bought it and brought it up to Michigan, and then I thought, where do you make money? So I thought I could turn it into a photobooth for weddings and stuff. It’s so cute, the bus’s name is Poppy.”

She only spent half of the year in Traverse City, the other half is spent in Dallas.

“So I live in Traverse City from Memorial Day to basically Halloween. When the leaves fall and the temperature changes, I’m out.”

She heads back to Dallas when it’s too cold for Happy Town Rickshaw, but she still works in Traverse City even from Texas.

“I manage our designated driver service, which is the main business that has really solidified our other business. We drive our clients cars for wine tours. Nobody wants to be a designated driver.”

Whether you want to get around by rickshaw or your own vehicle, it’s never a dull experience. This Friday Happy Rickshaw will have a bridal dress up.

Both a successful business owner, hospitality maven, and traveler is there anything Jessica can’t do? She’s envisioned a life for herself and it’s been exactly what she’s wanted and more. She attributes some of her success to vision boarding, but an adventurous spirit certainly doesn’t hurt either. She may not be working at a beachside resort in Mexico, but she’s still close to the water.

“I always knew I would get out and see the world.”

To stay updated on stories like these, join the newsletter community.

Categories: GTPulse