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My big fat Greek graduation party

High-school graduation is a time to reflect on past accomplishments, look to the future and throw a party that one-ups the Joneses.

“Parents start thinking they have to compete against whatever everybody else is doing,” said Terry St. Martin, branch manager of Broadway Party & Tent Rental in Brooklyn Park, which is booked for graduation parties the next two weekends. Business for these parties is up “considerably” from last year, St. Martin said—a sign that a sour economy isn’t keeping families from throwing sweet parties.

“Historically, when there’s a recession, parties tend to go up,” St. Martin said. “Right now, our business is seeing an increase. If people aren’t going to be traveling, per se, they want a fun party at home.”

What a “fun party” entails may surprise some. “Inflatable games are a big hit in the Twin Cities,” said Becky Harris, account manager at Event Lab in Eden Prairie. So are obstacle courses, which cost from $250 to $400 to rent from Event Lab, Harris said. Meanwhile, hot rentals from Broadway Party & Tent Rental include the $150 dunk tank, the $175 moon walk or $260 sumo wrestling suits. And for the quaint family, there’s tug of war or ladder golf.

Pomp and circumstance

Food marks another opportunity to impress, Harris said. Twin Cities parents are trying to get creative with specialty pretzels, guacamole bars, salad shakers and espresso bars.

Themed parties—such as backyard tea parties or ethnic soirees—are popular, and technology games are increasingly incorporated at graduation parties, with Guitar Hero and Wii tennis played alongside the cake and cards.

And for the family who’s determined to set itself apart, there are fireworks. Harris was hired by one couple who apparently had enough money left over after paying Blake’s $19,900 annual tuition to hire a band and have fireworks at their daughter’s graduation party. “It was really huge,” Harris recalled. “And each cake was a letter of her name—isn’t that crazy?”

The priciest part of a high-school graduation party is often the home renovation it inspires. Forthcoming guests provide the justification to finally re-paint or re-carpet or re-tile. Or knock down a wall. Or add on a room.

“I get a little uptick every year about this time, and you can always trace it to people who want to spruce up their homes for graduation parties,” said Jeff Beissel, of Beissel Window & Siding Co. in West St. Paul.

‘Picture mania’

Even the photographic displays, though lower budget than some offerings, can overwhelm party goers. Scrapbooks and slideshows are familiar sights, and it’s not uncommon to see an entire wall plastered with pictures. (Imagine how much space they’ll occupy once children born into the digital-camera age graduate!)

“It’s picture mania,” said Lauren Segelbaum, an event coordinator with Event Lab. “When I see all those pictures, I go to my daughter, ‘Really? Are we going to do this? Can I just take you away?’ ”

Segelbaum is not the only one who has entertained such uncomely thoughts. I heard of one mom who offered her son $1,000 to forgo his graduation party. Much to her relief, he accepted.

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