An outdoor event planned by Susan Siegal
An outdoor event planned by Susan Siegal. (Susan Siegal/Facebook)

Many vendors who serve the party business have closed shop, including photographers, videographers and caterers, making the planners’ job more difficult.

Professional party planners are emerging from an unplanned hibernation and scheduling celebrations, many of which had been canceled or delayed, for weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs and other special occasions.

Star Trax Events, based in Ferndale, provides individual services, such as parking and DJs, for 500 events a year. The company provided full-service planning for 42 events in 2019 and had 47 events planned for 2020 before COVID hit. More than 175 events have been canceled and another 100 rescheduled. 

Janice Cherkasky
Janice Cherkasky

“The virus killed all business very quickly,” said Janice Cherkasky of Franklin, who has been in the party planning business for 34 years.

Dee Dee Hoffman of West Bloomfield had five events ready to go when Michigan locked down last year, including a big bar mitzvah scheduled the weekend after the state’s stay-at-home order began.

Twenty of the 22 events planned by Susan Siegal of Franklin for 2020 were canceled. She pulled off a Zoom bridal shower last June. But a drive-by bar mitzvah party scheduled for October was canceled a day before by the celebrant’s school, which felt it exposed students to too much risk.

Susan Siegal
Susan Siegal

Wedding receptions are being rescheduled as many as five times, and usually to smaller events. But parties for bar/bat mitzvahs and special birthdays or anniversaries are more often just canceled.

Hoffman was able to pull off three events in 2020, including an outdoor family event and an outdoor bar mitzvah party. She has coordinated one outdoor wedding so far this year.

“We social distanced, and everyone wore masks,” she said. “Most staff were tested for COVID a few days prior to working the event.” The tented party space featured shields around seating areas, separate pods for each family, and specific entrances and exits.

An event Dee Dee Hoffman planned in March
An event Dee Dee Hoffman planned in March. Dee Dee Hoffman/Facebook

“One larger event did two different timeframes so they could accommodate more people.”

Geoff Kretchmer
Geoff Kretchmer

Star Trax’s Geoff Kretchmer says he was most devastated at having to furlough many of his staff, some of whom have found other opportunities and won’t be coming back. 

Many vendors who serve the party business have closed shop, including photographers, videographers and caterers, making the planners’ job more difficult.

“The vendors set the rules,” said Andrea Solomon of West Bloomfield. Last fall, she was able to reschedule some events to a large tent on the grounds of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield. “I did a wedding every weekend there,” she said.

Andrea Solomon
Andrea Solomon

But where the hosts may have wanted to have several hundred guests, they could not have more than 50 due to state regulations. Guests were widely spaced in the tent, and sanitation stations were plentiful. Food was served in boxes — no more buffets — and there wasn’t much dancing.

The most popular party favors of 2020? Masks and hand sanitizer, she said.

Outlook Improving

Things are looking up a bit. In May, Solomon coordinated three events. “I haven’t done that many in a year!” she said.

Kretchmer followed his clients’ lead during the pandemic. “If a customer was more comfortable canceling an event, then we would cancel and return their deposit in full,” he said. “If the customer wanted to downsize and get creative with a venue, then we would help in that process.”

Cherkasky said she appreciates her vendors’ efforts to be as flexible as possible.

A “neon luncheon” put on by Star Trax
A “neon luncheon” put on by Star Trax. Star Trax/Facebook

Even though things are now opening up, the party planning business has a long way to go before it will again be what used to be considered normal, said Solomon, who has been coordinating events for 32 years. One of her brides canceled her wedding last June and rescheduled it for this June, but in line with current state regulations, she can have only 100 guests, not the 300 she had originally wanted.

The planners share one piece of advice for anyone looking to schedule a big event this year or next: Start planning early. Many vendors are already completely booked through 2022, said Solomon.

“Be flexible and roll with the punches,” said Siegal. “The largest, most expensive, lavish events are not always the most meaningful.”

Hoffman suggests that clients request a “COVID clause” in contracts so they can get a refund if the event is canceled for a reason completely beyond their control. “Carefully read a contract and see how flexible any vendor will be throughout the planning process. You just never know when something will come up that can change your whole event.”

Star Trax has updated their party-planning resource, Plan it! Magazine, which is now online at startrax.com/plan-it-magazine. They will also hold their annual Event Show at Orchard Mall in West Bloomfield on Sunday, Oct. 21, with more than 50 special event vendors.