'Concierge America' business thrives in hectic area

October 4, 1995
Page: A-18
by Myra Mensh Patner

When Suzanne Stutman needed to find a tenant for her Chevy Chase home while she and her husband left the United States to live in Europe. She didn't place ads in the paper.

Rather she turned to Ellen Epstein of Concierge America. Epstein placed ads, interviewed prospective renters, checked references and credit and made sure all went well until stuntman returned. Stuntman has also hired Epstein to do grocery shopping, get pictures framed and locate a calligrapher. "I'll give Ellen a call for the little details of my life to the big details she is wonderful if you need a plumber in the middle of the night, she'll figure out who, where, when and how. She's a source of all knowledge," said Stutman, a mother of three who runs a mental-health foundation.

Epstein, 48, and her partner, Jane Lewit, 54, in January launched Concierge America, Inc., which handles the large headaches and small details of life for dozens of clients here and abroad. The two have been called on to book caterers, help organize closets, pay bills, get jewelry appraised, figure out what kind of computer to purchase and fill out insurance forms. They've been hired to locate a wheelchair taxi, make all the arrangements for a wedding, pick up a mortgage payment and deliver it to a bank, settle a client's mother into a new home and help a woman in the midst of a divorce move twice.

The two say they are part of a growing group of professional organizers around the country who help those who have all-encompassing jobs or who can't face the welter of information and demands of the world.

"People get so overwhelmed, they avoid the problems. Are they calling their psychiatrists? No they are calling their professional organizers," said Lewit.

"Some people let their mail pile up for weeks", Epstein said, "while others lose track of their bills and their bank accounts". One client had unwittingly subscribed to more than $2000 worth of magazines, a fact that only came to light when Epstein sought to organize the woman's billing system. "Hiring us is like hiring a wife the way wives used to be," said Lewit. "We help people de-junk their lives."

"We are calm, efficient; we don't get overwhelmed," said Epstein. The two met more than two decades ago through their husbands, who went to college together. Before starting Concierge America, they wrote several books together, including "The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Planbook," now in its fourth edition.

Both delight in being hyper-organized in their own lives. Lewit has been on top of things since she discovered, at age six, that she had missed kindergarten because her mother hadn't known when it began. Under Lewit's high school yearbook photo are the words, "Efficiency personified."

The two file everything away in their own homes, including all receipts. "Everything is systematic and everything is in its place," said Lewit.

The two are not bonded by any company and do not sign contracts with clients. "We are trusted," said Epstein, who lives in Rollingwood. Teh two say they like the work because it can be done from their homes and they like solving problems every day.

Occasionally, the two turn down a request, like one from a Potomac woman who wanted the two to be called if her alarm system went off while she was away. "She wanted us to go there and find out if a criminal was at her house," Lewit said.


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