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Published: Tuesday, 6/13/2006

Bigger graduation parties cast rays of sun on local tent firms

Jason Kurtz, of Meredith Party Rentals, hauls a table to join the chairs under a tent in Sylvania. Jason Kurtz, of Meredith Party Rentals, hauls a table to join the chairs under a tent in Sylvania.

"We call it Christmas in June."

Those are the words of Michelle Fairchild, manager of Meredith Party Rentals in Toledo, about the month when local companies that rent tents, chairs, and tables - not to mention chocolate fountains, cotton-candy makers, and nacho machines - say they strike gold.

Because of the hundreds of graduation parties held around the area, "This is the only time of year when we actually run out of tents, tables, and chairs for every weekend," Ms. Fairchild said.

She estimated that 70 to 80 percent of all rentals this month are for parties for graduations, mostly from high school, and Ms. Fairchild and other rental company executives said the parties are becoming more elaborate each year.

"Some of these parties are becoming almost like weddings," said Ms. Fairchild, who said she never thought she'd see a chocolate fountain, which rents for $20 to $175 depending on the number of guests, at anything other than a marriage celebration.

Patrick Kilby, foreground, and Jason Kurtz secure the graduation-party tent's guide ropes. Patrick Kilby, foreground, and Jason Kurtz secure the graduation-party tent's guide ropes.

Owner Mark Sarmento and manager Mike Baumgartner, of Toledo Tent & Party Rental in Oregon, estimated they had 150 tents rented this past week, mostly for high school graduation parties.

They report that customers are springing for lighting and for machines that make ice cream, slushies, and margaritas ("not for the graduates," Mr. Sarmento clarified), as well for as dance floors and stages.

Plus, customers want cloth napkins and table skirts, often in the colors of the school, such as green and white for Ottawa Hills High School and blue and red for St.


"The cheapest someone can get out of here is $300, and that's just for tables, chairs, and a tent, but we've seen people drop a couple thousand dollars for graduation parties," said Mr. Baumgartner. "And that's before the caterer."

Rod Hill, owner of All Purpose Rental Service in Toledo, estimated that families spend anywhere from $15 for a few chairs to $800-plus, including delivery, set-up, and tear-down, if they're having a couple of hundred guests.

"Typically what we see is high school seems to be the big milestone," he said. "We do college graduations, but they don't seem to be as elaborate as high school graduations."

Their own turn on the high school graduation party circuit inspired a summer business for Aaron Wozniak, co-owner of In-Tents Rental Co. in Toledo, and his partner, Stu Cubbon, Jr.

"When we were seniors in high school, we were going to all of these graduation parties and it seemed like at least 50 percent of them had a tent," said Mr. Wozniak, who will be a senior in the fall at Xavier University.

After drawing up a business plan, the two spent $8,000 to set up In-Tents. Last year, they did 45 parties and made $10,000, Mr. Wozniak said, adding they hope to do even more business this year.

Local business owners say the desire to have a covered space for a backyard party is easy to see, with June's rapidly changing weather.

"You don't want to be at an outdoor party and not have any cover, especially if there's rain," said Jeremy Wheeler, owner of A-1 Rentals in Monclova Township. "Heat is definitely a factor as well. You want to keep people out of the sun."

Most customers book their June parties in February, March, or April, but some plan even earlier. "We're taking orders already for next June," said Mr. Baumgartner, of Toledo Tent.

Mary-Beth McLaughlin at


or 419-724-6199.

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