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Parties 'R' Some Of Us

 

Even as many Westerners struggle with layoffs, pay cuts, medical bills and other economic troubles, wealthy people in resort towns are whooping it up.

That's the report from the companies that supply banquet tables and chairs, enormous tents, portable dance floors, sound and lighting systems, antler chandeliers, artificial trees, eruptions of flowers and other party-throwing gear.

The party business is going "gangbusters!" Rachel Smiley, co-owner of Alpine Party Rentals in Vail, Colo., said a few weeks ago. Like many other party companies, Alpine isn't doing quite as much business as it did before the economy tanked, but, Smiley observed, "There are still folks out there absolutely spending money." At one recent gig -- a two-night event hosted by a couple from Chicago -- Alpine's portion of the staging ran $75,000.

Most of the expensive parties are weddings. An average wedding in Sun Valley, Idaho, now costs between $41,306 and $68,843, according to the authoritative Web site, costofwedding.com. In Vail, the average wedding runs $36,716 to $61,194, while in Big Sky, Mont., it's from $27,537 to $45,896. That includes accessories such as the "ceremony ring pillow" but not engagement rings and honeymoons.

Meanwhile, the average wedding nationwide runs about $20,000. In struggling blue-collar cities like Pueblo, Colo., it's around $16,000, and in Libby, Mont. -- a busted-out mining and logging town -- it's closer to $10,000.

Other high-end parties include birthdays, fancy barbecues and huge dinners, as well as corporate retreats and festivals for everything from music to mushrooms. They're typically staged in beautiful places -- on the grounds of trophy second-homes, lodges and resorts and on ranches owned by Hollywood celebrities and investment bankers.

Paul Perry, co-owner of Canvas Unlimited & Party Animals in Jackson, Wyo., for 15 years, said his company provided set-ups for about a hundred weddings this summer, with his end (which typically didn't include catering, bands and other services from different companies) of each averaging about $6,000. Perry's biggest bill this summer ran about $50,000. His company was also involved in staging a "Hollywood person wedding" in Jackson where the total bill probably ran more than $300,000.

James Woodruff, who runs Crux Events and Party Rentals in the Lake Tahoe area on the California-Nevada border, says he used to stage corporate parties as far away as Aspen, Colo., but lately, fewer corporations are partying. He cites two reasons -- frugality and scandals over executives' corruption and lavish lifestyles. "A lot of the (corporate) boondoggles are down. A lot of that is too in-your-face for the clients and management now."

Not to point fingers. The West's rich folks provide help to those in need; they pay taxes that support public services and give to charities. Woodruff has not only shifted to throwing parties for individuals, he's also doing fund-raising events for charities such as hospitals. "I give (charities) a 30 percent to 50 percent discount (partly) because of what's happened in my life," he said. His brother, ABC-TV journalist Bob Woodruff, was injured in a bomb blast in Iraq; together, they're involved in the Bob Woodruff Foundation, which helps traumatized veterans. "A lot of people (in the party business) are doing charity work these days," he says.