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Published: Saturday, 5/23/2009

Toledo area firms say parents of grads are watching their pennies


KELLY NOWARD is very proud of her son, Michael, who will graduate this month from St. John s Jesuit High School.

She plans to throw Michael a graduation party, but the Sylvania mom said that although it will be fun, her son knows it won t be as lavish as the party his sister, Lauren, had in 2002.

I made so much food and bought so much food and a lot of it went to waste, Ms. Noward said, recalling her daughter s event. I spent a ton of money on that party. But this one s going to be a little different. It will be nice but we re probably not going to rent a big tent.

The economy and finances have many other parents of 2009 high school graduates concerned.

Cold cuts are displacing hot meals at some local catering firms.
Cold cuts are displacing hot meals at some local catering firms.
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They aren t canceling graduation parties, but many are setting budgets and sticking to them, finding ways to pool or cut costs, or planning smaller affairs figuring that other parties will be taking place simultaneously and a large catered affair is unnecessary.

I really, truly think that, no matter where you are with your family life, this is a big deal. It s a milestone and you don t want to gyp your child, said Ginger Venable, an Eden Prairie, Minn., event planner who runs a popular Web site, Graduationparty.com.

Michelle Fairchild, general manager of Meredith Party Rentals in Toledo, which rents tents, tables, chairs, tablecloths, and other party items, said it s clear to her that parties are going forward, but that money has become an issue.

I haven t a reduction in anything. We re still doing the same number of rentals as in the past, but the orders are coming in slower, she said.

Obviously, to me it seems like people are scraping up their deposits, waiting to see if they ll have the money for a tent or other items. I had a girl who came in the other day with her grandmother, and grandma was going to help out with the cost. Plus, I m seeing a lot of credit cards a lot more credit cards than ever before.

In the Toledo area, a tent to shelter about 16 people sitting at tables rents for about $150. Tables for eight rent for about $10, and chairs about $1 each.

Ben Garcia, of Meredith Party Rentals, prepares a tent for a party. A spokesman said the pace of orders is slower than in years past.  Ben Garcia, of Meredith Party Rentals, prepares a tent for a party. A spokesman said the pace of orders is slower than in years past.

Meredith charges between $70 and $150 (depending on distance) to deliver tents and other items. Previously, clients paid for delivery, but this year many are picking up their items so they can save the fees, Ms. Fairchild said.

At Toledo Tent Co. in Oregon, operations manager Mike Baumgartner said business is down about 3 percent for graduation parties, which make up about 10 percent of the company s rentals.

We used to see people spend $2,000 to $3,000 on a graduation party. I m not seeing those parties come in this year. Eighteen hundred dollars for a party was the highest I ve seen, he said.

Jeremy Wheeler, owner of A-1 Tent Rental in Whitehouse, said he has seen more people this year forgoing tents for grad parties. Many are just not getting the tents because they don t have the money. They want the table and chairs and they are praying for no rain, he said.

At Sautter s Five-Star Market in Sylvania, there are few signs that the recession is eating into usual demand for graduation cakes, cold-cut trays, and heaps of potato salads and other side dishes.

It s going pretty good, said Marge Mizer, bakery-deli manager.

Graduation-related sales are about even with last year s, she said.

Despite the region s high unemployment rate, most people continue to work and, with extra time at a minimum, they are not eager to take on the chore of baking cakes and whipping up food for graduation gatherings, she said. They don t have time to deal with the party thing.

Most area caterers say they are seeing a slight increase in graduation party business, but the reasons are unclear.

I don t have a good answer why, but that s the way it is for us, said Roger Parker, head of operations for Gladieux Catering in Toledo. But, he said, customers are ordering more casual foods, such as cold cuts, cheeses, and vegetable trays, and fewer hot meals.

Nancy Beckman, owner of Premier Catering, in Perrysburg, said she thinks parents may be getting assistance with food and expenses from other family members or friends.

Sue Wistinghausen, catering manager of Michael s Gourmet Catering, of Toledo, said orders this year seems to be more last-minute, and many customers are turning to catering for meats but also preparing their own foods.

The word budget is getting repeated very often this year, she said.

That fits the profile of Ms. Noward, the Sylvania mom.

She is shopping around for the best values and probably won t firm things up until she absolutely has to.

And, she said, I ll be making more things myself as opposed to having prepared foods.

Depending on quality and decorations, cakes that feed 70 will cost between $50 and $70.

A catered meal of sandwiches, salads, desserts, and beverages can run between $10 and $15 per person.

In past years, many parents also sprang for entertainment, such as a DJ, at a cost of about $100 an hour. But with so many looking to trim costs, that may be out of many budgets.

Toledoan Tom Galvin, who goes by the name DJ Tommy Ray, said that at this time in past years he d be booked for graduation parties in May, June, and even July. This year, he only has a few bookings so far.

In contrast, DJ Michael Baginski, owner of Decorative Sounds, of Maumee, said his graduation party business appears steady and unaffected by the recession. But, he said, that could be because of changes he made last year.

Fearing a loss of business, he began adding karaoke and customized playlists at no charge. He also has gone to a set fee for unlimited time within reason.

Contact Jon Chavez at:jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.

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