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Marylouise Oates

Under Big Tents, a Boom in Party Rentals

October 25, 1986|Marylouise Oates

With the exception of Boy Scouts and Bedouins, most people these days don't spend time thinking about tents. Except, of course, in L.A.

Here, tenting--like the parties it covers--reflects a way of life.

Welcome to the wonderful world of rentals. Favorable climate meets hot-to-trot social aspirations and the canvas unfurls.

"How do I tell you about tents?" lyrically asks Mike Stern, the personable president of Regal Rents who once tented an event for 18,000 people. Tenting is Big, but not as big as the party rental business in general, which has grown, Barnum-like, in the past decade. Several years ago, Stern says, rentals were mostly for "personal parties," but now businesses and charities make up the biggest percentage of the business.

Rentals for parties "usually" start at $25 a person, business insiders say, and that can include the linen, tables, chairs and some sort of ground cover.

The figure can quickly jump, depending on variables, like the need for tenting, heaters, the quality of linens, or, frequently, the cost of a chair.

Aha. Of course. Chairs.

There is the innocent partygoer, pulling out his seat over the AstroTurf or ground covering, never realizing that what he's about to sit on is a clear indication of his relative merit. If it's a folding chair, there should be either congratulations to the charity for saving money--the humble folding chair rents for about $1--or, if it's a wedding or dinner party, the host could be labeled, at best, thrifty.

If the chair is padded or looks vaguely foreign (Italianate or Oriental), the guests will be sitting on a nice little piece of change since top-of-the-line chairs go for up to $7 each.

And this in a society where people rarely spend much time at parties in their chairs, but rather bounce around the tent, from table to table, so that their personalities and clothes can be better viewed.

It's all reflected under the pin lights, of course. Those are the teeny white Christmasy lights that decorators stick into rented ficus trees--the trees now made necessary by the advent of the clear plastic tent: You gotta look at something.

For some, pin lights are not enough. At one lavish charity benefit this past summer, large elaborate chandeliers hung from the tent ceiling.

The costly accouterments produced the air of Versailles--perhaps in the weeks before the Revolution.

OPENING THE MAIL--Barbara Sinatra gets some help from Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp and former President Gerald Ford when she dedicates the $2-million Barbara Sinatra Children's Center for sexually abused children in Rancho Mirage at the Eisenhower Medical Center Friday. . . . Tuesday, it's all very VIP, as China's Lin Han Xiong (minister of the State Administration of Building Materials Industry) and Dr. Armand Hammer give a hand in opening the China Building Materials and Architectural Decorative Arts Exhibit at the L.A. Design Mart.

Tuesday, Lesbian Central of the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center presents a benefit preview of Lily Tomlin's "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe" with a private party preceding the performance at the James Doolittle Theater. . . . The Beverly Center's California Pizza Kitchen Sunday is the site for a Magical Holloween party--and it's all for the magical Starlight Foundation. That's the group that grants special wishes to terminally, chronically and critically ill children.

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