Rental Companies Stockpiling Coat Racks, Wine Glasses for Inaugural Parties

By Walter Nicholls December 1, 2008, 4:22 PM EST

If Washington rental company executives know one thing, it's that Inauguration Day tends to be nippy. People wear overcoats, and once they're inside, they need a proper place to park them. With some four million spectators expected to attend the swearing in of President-elect Barack Obama and hundreds of parties taking place in the days leading up to the big event, January 16 to 20 is shaping up to be the biggest event week the city has ever seen, and that means an unprecedented number of coat racks will be needed.

Inaugural party orders are still being formed, and rental companies expect that in the next week they will have a far better idea of just how many glasses, tables, and carriers they will need. But they are not taking any chances that coat racks will be an issue this year.

“Coat racks are always the biggest thing at inaugurals,” said Peter Grazzini, owner of Perfect Settings, who has eight or more major events on the books, as well as 40 to 50 parties in offices along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route, with 200 to 500 people at each. He has purchased 250 new racks to add to the 185 in stock and has 200 on hold out of state. “And I don't really know if that will be enough,” he said. Anticipating a run on glassware, Perfect Settings has added 20,000 all-purpose and 20,000 wine glasses to its inventory.


Racks are also the number one concern at DC Rental. “That's the big commodity,” said general manager Joe Valente, who has 300, “a fraction of what we need.” He has purchased an additional 200 and is waiting for a shipment of 50,000 glasses to add to the 30,000 in stock.

Susan Lacz, a principal of caterer Ridgewells, says that as far as inaugurals are concerned, her company has the ability to do a sit-down dinner for 4,000 on any given night. But she is, nonetheless, shopping for rentals for multiple events. “The decor is a no-brainer,” said Lacz. “Fifty percent of the tables are red, fifty percent are blue, and the flowers are white, but we need more tabletop everything.” At such times she relies on New York-based Broadway Rentals. “It’s perfect. They bring in their own labor,” she said.

An added challenge will be turning over equipment, since many of the inaugural events are back to back, with the added strain of getting trucks in and out of restricted areas with security checkpoints. “In some cases, our ability to shift equipment will be greatly diminished,” said Valenti. “We might have to wind up leaving equipment on site for days, until late Tuesday night.”

For rental companies, it is still unclear exactly how much event planners will spend given the economic downturn. But Grazzini said, “Trust me, it will be big.” For inaugurals, Perfect Settings requires full payments to be made up front, because, according to Grazzini, “A lot of times, these people come to town and then they are gone. That’s the way it has to be.”

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