July 27, 2015 Staff Report
The Long Island City resident who gained notoriety last week after it was reported that he was renting vans in Hunters Point to tourists for as little as $22 a night got his start in the business selling Christmas trees.
Jonathan Powley, 25, entered into the hospitality business after forming a Long Island City-based Christmas tree company—called Christmas Tree Stand-Up–where he would sell trees and holds live comedy shows at his tree stands.
Last year, one of the vehicles he used for the Christmas tree business broke down—a 1979 camper.
“It sat for a while and then I decided to spruce it up and list it on AirBnB–for visitors to the city who want a more affordable alternative to traditional apartments and hotels. Well, the listing took off, and I’ve met the most amazing travelers over the last few months.”
Pawley has since expanded his fleet to have at least three campers/vans in the neighborhood and rents them out for between $39 and $69 per night. One of those vehicles is a taxi cab minivan.
On one of his recently listings, Powley posted on AirBnB: “Super spacious! All brand new furnishings!! Only 3 Stops from Times Square, Less than 10 minutes to 50 major attractions. Located in Super Safe Community. Quiet at night time. Best Views of NYC!!! Sleeps 2 comfortably.”
The reviews his campers and his personal service on AirBnB have been glowing.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life! Just the view and the park across the road are totally worth it plus the van is lovely and full of nice details, a must do if you like this kind of stuff!” wrote Monica, a guest from Pennsylvania. “I actually got to meet Jonathan and he’s very nice, attentive and helpful.”
Powley said that he enjoys showing tourists the neighborhood—especially the views from the Hunters Point waterfront parks.
He said he participates in park clean ups, so “it’s a real joy to share a nice view of this park with out-of-towners.”
He said there have been ups and downs—such as when a guest got lost looking for a van or when another claimed the van appeared small.
“My latest addition—the Taxi Cab minivan—is my favorite. People from all over the world have asked about it. It’s got that cool factor that really intrigues visitors,” he said.
Powley said he is in the process of shooting a documentary called “One Camper: One Hundred Stories.”
He said the documentary will be based on a series of interviews that he has had with guests who have stayed with him. “I’ll probably submit it to the Queens World Film Festival next year, although I’m looking at other possibilities too.”
Renting the vans is legal since in New York City there are no laws prohibiting people from sleeping in vehicles. However, tourists who do rent one of his vans/campers do have to find bathrooms and showering facilities elsewhere.
Powley said he expects to be out again selling Christmas Trees again this winter and is continuing to do standup comedy in New York.