Area holiday celebrations saw an uptick this season
by Ernie Garcia>
Source: The Journal News
Area holiday celebrations saw an uptick this season, although a pall from the school tragedy in Newtown, Conn., lingered in the background of those held this past week.
“Daily routine and normalcy is maybe not a cure, but it’s sort of a comforting feeling when something like this happens,” said Blauvelt caterer Joe Agnello, who has two young children. “For the most part, everyone kept on doing what they were doing.”
The Newtown shootings delivered a horrifying end to a year in which many event planners, caterers and banquet-hall managers noted a rise in employee holiday parties — a sign, many said, that more local businesses are prospering.
News of the shootings, however, did lead some party-related businesses to make adjustments to acknowledge the deaths of 20 children and 6 adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Grand Prix New York in Mount Kisco, for example, had a moment of silence during its Dec. 14 events. The Suffern Crowne Plaza’s holiday bookings were unaffected, but the hotel’s ownership canceled a March 2 and 3 gun show in response to the tragedy.
Robert Wilson, general manager at the Crowne Plaza, said that he had about 25 company parties scheduled at the hotel this month, compared with five last year.
“It’s been a much stronger year,” said Wilson.
Diana Gould, president of Diana Gould Ltd., a floral and event decor company with an Elmsford showroom and production facility, said most of the holiday events she worked on were held before the shootings occurred and that a big event she did this past week was unchanged. Despite this year’s somber ending, Gould called the 2012 holiday party season “a four-star wow.”
“I could only attribute it to the improving economy and I think there’s a very positive feeling out there in corporate land as far as where business is going,” Gould said.
Colby Brock, food and beverage director at the NoMa Social Restaurant at the Radisson Hotel in New Rochelle, said her staff was very busy this month.
“I definitely think this holiday season has been more prosperous,” said Brock, who on Dec. 13 organized a 200-person party for small companies that couldn’t fill a large space on their own. “The economy has jolted more people back into wanting to celebrate.”
Local and state officials do not keep statistics on how many businesses are having holiday parties this year and a number of local companies declined to discuss their plans.
Kim Sullivan, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer at the Event Planners Association in Lake Forest, Calif., said the trade group’s members have told her that corporate events are up.
“They’re not spending what they did a few years ago, but they are starting to loosen the purse strings,” said Sullivan.
In its 2012 Corporate Events Marketplace Study, Special Events magazine found that 44 percent of party planners said they would produce more events in 2012. About 43 percent of respondents said they expected to work with bigger party budgets this year.
Although the national unemployment rate in November was still high at 7.7 percent, many publicly traded corporations had a good year.
Frank Rivas, a general manager at the Henry Schein medical products company in Melville, N.Y., bought 40 tickets for the NoMa Social holiday party. Rivas said he invited his region’s managers and business associates to join him.
“It’s our way of saying thank you for all they do,” said Rivas. “It was a good year for us. Hurricane Sandy stalled our momentum a little bit but we picked it up.”
Not all local business owners are in a mood to celebrate. Nat Mundy of Grand Prix New York said that midsize companies with less than 100 employees seemed to be pulling back on their December merriment.
“They basically stopped spending money and they’re preparing for Obamacare that is going to cost them a lot more money,” said Mundy. “We saw a lot of our corporate clients come in and hold the holiday party before the election.”
Stacy Gerber, owner of Total Party Concepts in Nyack, said his his corporate business has been “a little” better than in previous years. Even with an improved economy, Gerber said some of his clients are sensitive about parties that look too lavish.
“A lot of my clients don’t want to show that they are spending a lot of money,” said Gerber, who accommodates those requests by offering smaller menus with higher-quality selections and by having service staff wear casual clothing instead of tuxedos.
For his part, Agnello, owner of Northern Comfort Catering, said his corporate business remained steady in recent years.
“I don’t know that the economy is coming around that much,” said Agnello, who catered a 150-person banquet Monday.
One company making larger plans than last year is Regeneron, a biotechnology company in Tarrytown, which will have a its holiday party on Jan. 12. Regeneron has much to celebrate this year with a Food and Drug Administration approval of its cancer drug Zaltrap and with a stock price that has more than tripled this year, bringing its market capitalization to $17 billion, said Peter Dworkin, vice-president of corporate communications.
Regeneron’s almost 2,000 employees are all invited to the party, so that requires a large hotel with multiple ballrooms, Dworkin said.
“We feel that holiday parties are something that employees look forward to,” Dworkin said. “It’s a way of thanking them again for all their hard work in the previous year and one more opportunity to come together as an extended family.”