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Companies are rethinking their holiday parties with different kinds of venues

| Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, 11:22 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Partygoers dine in the gallery at a company party held at the James Gallery & Frame Foundry in West End on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013.

Gleason & Associates P.C. outgrew its regular holiday party venue, a Shadyside restaurant, in 2010, but Sue Gleason found a replacement that offered the best of both worlds for the certified public accounting firm.

James Gallery & Frame Foundry in the West End wasn't too big or too small, nor did it require decoration, she said. The firm held its annual holiday party in the gallery for the fourth consecutive time on Saturday.

“It's not a restaurant. It's not a club. It's not a hotel. It really makes you feel like you're in some place special,” said Gleason, whose husband, Mark Gleason, is the president and founder Gleason & Associates.

Such sentiments are driving companies and other organizations' demand for holiday party venues that are distinct, sometimes even odd, and give revelers something to talk about — and remember, event planning and supply experts said.

“I would say that over the past couple of years, it's been really growing. People are starting to see the effect that it can have on an organization if they have a really unique holiday party,” said Allison Miller, senior marketing director at All Occasions Party Rental, a party equipment and supply rental company based in Eighty-Four.

Websites such as Pinterest are contributing to the demand because they allow venues, event planners and party throwers to display and share party ideas for free, she said.

Some of All Occasions' clients have hosted holiday parties on rooftops of parking garages, and in warehouses, airplane hangars, train stations and the Old Allegheny County Jail, Downtown, she said.

Despite the growing demand for one-of-a-kind parties, the percentage of companies that plan to throw any kind of end-of-year or holiday party this year is down from last year — 66 percent compared to 72 percent — according to surveys of 748 human resources professionals in 2013 and 362 in 2012 that the Alexandria, Va.-based Society for Human Resource Management conducted.

The Prop Shop, a prop and furniture rental business that has been located in the East End for 13 years, began renting out its showroom, which is outfitted with $100,000 worth of props, for parties in December 2012, owner Steve Weiner said.

In one room, party guests can visit stations with various themes, such as Hollywood, Italy, night clubs and the old West, he said.

“So if someone has it here, they don't have to rent the props,” he said.

The same could be said about James Gallery, but the “props” are fine art pieces that change regularly.

“I think that's a big advantage if someone is looking to host a party, is that they really don't have to decorate,” gallery owner James Frederick said.

Some venues offer more of a blank canvas that clients can dress up to their liking.

South Side-based Jay Verno Studios, a commercial studio with a sound stage, was built for TV commercials, owner J. Verno said. Party-throwing clients can rent out Verno's area and access two high-end gourmet kitchens, tables, chairs, a built-in photo booth and an audiovisual system with a lighting grid.

His holiday party business is growing because “I think people are just bored. Go to a hotel, it's always the same cookie-cutter structure. … I think they just want to have some place that's not typical,” Verno said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer at Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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