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Published: Friday, 12/30/2005

In Toledo and area, smaller gatherings overtaking bashes

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Michelle Carroll, manager of Phantom Fireworks, Curtice, is ready to make some noise to welcome in 2006. Michelle Carroll, manager of Phantom Fireworks, Curtice, is ready to make some noise to welcome in 2006.
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When glasses clink and couples embrace at midnight tomorrow night at the Clarion Westgate Hotel, they could be marking the final New Year's Eve bash there.

Although the hotel is expecting a respectable crowd of about 150 for the event, this year will be the third consecutively that attendance has fallen. With the numbers perhaps heading for below the break-even point, managers are debating whether to continue the tradition next year.

"We think the days of going out on New Year's Eve to a big party such as at a hotel have come and gone," said John Logsdon, general manager of the hotel, where the bash including a room, food, and open bar will run $300 a couple.

The Wyndham-Toledo dropped its party this year, the Radisson Hotel-Toledo no longer schedules a bash, and attendance is expected to be down at other big events in the area.

Fewer metro Toledo residents are partying like it's 1999, according to hospitality officials.

Today's New Year's Eve often includes dinner and a drink, a small house party, or a family gathering, they said.

Some attribute the trend to Toledo's weak economy, but there is evidence that New Year's revelers in the Midwest are less hearty partiers than Americans overall.

Midwesterners plan to spend an average of $119 on festivities, an amount that is less than half of planned spending in the Northeast and nearly a third less than in the nation overall, according to a recent survey of shoppers conducted for mall manager Macerich Co., of Santa Monica, Calif.

The query found that 68 percent of Midwesterners planned to celebrate New Year's Eve, compared to 78 percent of people in the Northeast.

"Overall, over the last year or two, most parties have down-sized and people are being more modest in selection of food," said Roger Parker, hospitality vice president at Gladieux Enterprises, Toledo. His firm will cater 10 house parties with 25 to 50 guests each.

At the firm's Gladieux Meadows catering hall in southwest Toledo, more than 500 people are expected for a big bash. That shows big parties aren't dead, Mr. Parker said.

Still, attendance is down from the 800 who showed up for Year 2000 millennium celebration. But this year's turnout is expected to be about even with last year's.

Businesses catering to lower-key celebrations report doing well.

At Mancy's Steakhouse, in West Toledo, "We're totally booked," said owner Michael Mancy. "From now until Saturday, every other call is about New Year's," added the restaurateur, who will serve 900 meals that night. Callers have the option of going on a waiting list or looking elsewhere. New Year's Eve is the establishment's biggest night of the year.

Phantom Fireworks, Curtice, closes for the season Nov. 1 but opens the week between Christmas and Jan. 1 to serve customers who want to welcome the New Year with a bang and a pop.

"We're seeing a small increase this year, but not much," said Michelle Carroll, manager. The most popular selections are paper Party Poppers for indoors and a rocket or two for outdoors.

"Not a full-blown show, just something quick," Ms. Carroll explained.

Beer and alcohol sales are strong at Pauken Wine Shop, Maumee. "We'll sell more than last year," said manager Laura Primas, who noted that many buyers will put off purchases until Saturday evening. Popular items include Captain Morgan spiced rum, Jagermeister cordial, and high-end vodkas like Grey Goose.

The Stranahan Theater's Great Hall is preparing to serve 250 people at a party featuring the closest thing Toledo has to Guy Lombardo: Johnny Knorr and his orchestra.

"That's much lower than in years past," conceded Ward Whiting, Stranahan general manager.

"People, in general, are staying home and finding other options," said the Clarion's Mr. Logsdon.

"Once upon a time, we all did packages," added Michael Sapara, general manager of the Radisson Hotel-Toledo. "It just doesn't work. We're going to give our employees a much-deserved day off on New Year's Eve."

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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