Fear And Hope Dominate Phoenix Area's Party And Event Rental Industry

By Christina Estes
Published: Tuesday, September 15, 2020 - 5:05am
Updated: Tuesday, September 15, 2020 - 12:59pm

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decorations for graduation party
Festive Events and Rentals
A small 2020 graduation party prepared by Tempe-based Festive Events and Rentals.

We’re entering what should be the busy season for party and event rental operators across metro Phoenix. But like many industries, it’s adapting in the coronavirus era.

Change Of Plans

bride and groom during ceremony
Nicci Kirlew
A miniature R2D2 from the Star Wars franchise delivered rings to Alyssia and Justin Pedersen at their wedding on September 4, 2020.

It wasn’t the wedding Felicia Vandermolen planned for her 27-year-old daughter Alyssia Pedersen.

“The original plan was for May,” Vandermolen said.

The May nuptials were pushed back to Labor Day weekend. And then, two weeks before the big day, when a Phoenix resort couldn’t keep its original promise to accommodate 110 guests because of Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order banning large public gatherings, Vandermolen’s daughter turned to her mom and asked, “How about 30 people in your backyard?”

“And it turned out great,” Vandermolen said. “Our guests couldn’t stop talking about it.”

Vandermolen surprised her daughter and future son-in-law, Justin Pedersen, by transforming her home into a Disneyland and Star Wars set.

“It looked so dramatically different, you know, with the lights and the curtains and all that,” she said. “It was just phenomenal.”

Vandermolen said it all came together in about a week, thanks to Tempe-based Festive Events and Rentals where Ginia Lucas is the manager.

Local And National Impact

“We do weddings from $250 to $40,000,” Lucas said.

smiling woman
Harley Bonham
Ginia Lucas is manager of Festive Events and Rentals in Tempe.

But not so much this year. She said wedding business is 25% of normal. Corporate events have disappeared along with hotel work.

“We do rentals for a lot of the hotels, their events, if they have overflow and they need extra tables or extra catering equipment,” Lucas said. “I have not heard from any of my hotels at all, for like the last five months.”

It’s been the same at ASU where Lucas is used to handling fraternity and sorority activities. With colleges and universities across the country canceling homecomings and tailgate parties, the event rental industry is as quiet as a campus library during final exams.

In Champaign, Illinois, home to the University of Illinois, Herriott’s Rents Tents Events is dealing with the loss of fall sports business. Maggie Cascone, event coordinator, said UI typically makes up about 41% of annual rentals.

“We don’t really see things picking up until the spring of next year,” said Tony Conant, chief executive officer for the American Rental Association, a trade group for businesses that make, supply and rent equipment.  

"We don’t really see things picking up until the spring of next year."
— Tony Conant, CEO of American Rental Association

head and shoulders photo of man
American Rental Association
Tony Conant is chief executive officer of American Rental Association.

He said no one’s renting things like flooring and lighting or tables and chairs. Business is pretty much limited to tents. Some restaurants are renting them to add outdoor dining space and some schools are renting and buying tents.

“Colleges and universities have been buying tents for those folks that really think they’re going to leave them up for extended periods of time, weather permitting,” Conant said. “And then for folks that see maybe a shorter season that are in climates that are going to see winter, they’re primarily renting tents, but we see those staying up at least into November.”

Herriott’s in Illinois found some new business by renting and installing tents on campus for COVID-19 testing sites and long-term outdoor spaces for students. And Cascone said Herriott’s planned to reach out to the county clerk’s office about possibly providing tents at polling places this fall. Conant calls tents a bright spot for the industry-just not bright enough.

“I talk to business owners every day that are you know, doing, like I said, 20-30% of the revenue that their business was built to do so they’re very concerned that without that next round of stimulus funding they do not see a way to get to next year,” he said.

"I do feel like people are getting a little hopeful."
— Ginia Lucas, manager of Festive Events and Rentals

Hope In Tempe

bride and groom kissing
Nicci Kirlew
After rescheduling their May wedding to Labor Day weekend, Justin and Alyssia Pedersen also moved the venue from a resort to the bride's parent's Gilbert home.

In Tempe, Lucas plans to bring back one or two sales people in the next couple weeks and maybe a few more for the warehouse. But she can’t rehire everyone.

“It’s been rough, especially on my team,” she said. “You know, I don’t want to lose them. You get ‘em trained and then all of the sudden you’re going to have to train somebody new because they’ve gone on to another job and I hate seeing that.”

Planning weddings sometimes softens the sorrow.

“I do feel like people are getting a little hopeful,” Lucas said. “They’re seeing the numbers drop and they’re feeling like you know life will go on after this is over and we’re going to make sure our event is good and perfect and the way we want it."

Before COVID-19, hosting a wedding at her home in Gilbert wasn’t something Vandermolen ever expected. But if she hadn’t, guests wouldn’t have giggled over choosing which Disney masks to wear or light saber to wave. And the bride and groom would’ve missed watching a miniature R2D2 roll down the aisle to deliver their rings.

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