Glitter of prom adds millions in gold to area's cash registers
At a long-time Anchorage tuxedo rental shop recently, employees were taking requests for men’s formal attire faxed from Valdez. Once the measurements are matched to coat, shoe and pant size, the package -- including cuff links and studs -- is sent from Dooley’s Tuxedo & Costumes via Alaska Airlines Goldstreak in time for prom.
"We ship all over Alaska," said Starla Heim, one of the company’s owners. "We’ve had our tuxedos on dog sleds."
Even though Dooley’s says it owns one of the largest inventories of tuxedos on the West Coast, 12 proms scheduled for April 28 may stretch the company’s capability. By mid-April, 200 tuxedos had been rented for that date, and Heim estimates total tuxedo rentals for prom season will hit 600 to 800.
Research shows prom participants nationwide spend an average of $300 to $500 each, from manicures to limo rentals.
Facility operators say events average 500 to 800 attendees and each of the Anchorage area’s six major high school holds an event. Prom business also comes from private schools, Palmer, Wasilla and the Kenai Peninsula.
That means the total economic impact of prom season in Anchorage ranges from $900,000 to $2.4 million for area businesses.
Jim Anderson, owner of Anderson’s Bride, believes total prom season spending could hit $2.5 million if expenses for creative ideas are included. One student, he said, is planning to rent a helicopter to fly to the Double Musky restaurant in Girdwood.
Dresses and tuxedos
At Dooley’s Heim said prom business lasts from mid-April to mid-May.
Tuxedo rentals account for 80 percent of Dooley’s overall business, and prom rentals represent a third of that, Heim said.
Anderson’s Bride rents tuxedos and sells dresses, but prom probably counts for 5 percent of total business, Anderson noted. Nearly 450 customers work with the shop from mid-March to May, he said.
Last year the shop shipped 10 tuxedos to Nome.
"I really think the Bush does quite a bit of traffic with Fairbanks," Anderson said.
At Anderson’s Bride, the high-school dance attendees each spend $88 to $140 renting tuxedos or from $140 to $360 for a dress, shoes and jewelry.
Camille’s Boutique Inc. stocks 350 dresses for the event, and girls start ordering in January. By peak season about 40 teen-agers visit the store daily, said manager Camille Williams. The store has sent dresses to Nome, Barrow and Kaltag, she said.
Williams, who has sent dresses to the Miss Alaska pageant, estimates that more than 20 percent of her business comes from prom season.
Customers spend between $145 to $400 on prom dresses at Camille’s, she said.
Florists this year face a double challenge: At least two Anchorage proms are set for May 12, one day before Mother’s Day.
"I have to figure out how to get (corsages and boutonnieres) done on top of handling Mother’s Day, our largest holiday," said Carrs Huffman store floral manager Dawn Kauffman.
She estimates 420 hours are required to make corsages, which range in price from $20 to $30. Boutonnieres cost $8.99.
Kauffman believes prom business is more significant in Anchorage than Outside, where spending is spread among more stores.
Teen-agers also are buying presentation bouquets of roses or sunflowers selling for $40 to $60, said Chanda Mines, owner of Bagoys Florist & Home. Mines expects high volume and overtime hours to tackle the two big events this spring.
At Bagoy’s wrist corsages cost $22.50 to $25, and boutonnieres cost $8 to $10.
Another element of prom spending is glamour.
"It’s great business," said Kari Hall, an owner of Allure Day Spa & Hair Design.
Allure serves prom clients for school events from January to May, and about 300 customers each prom season ask for hair styling, she said.
On the day of a prom, up to nine hairdressers work with clients, and 75 percent of the day’s business comes from the event, she said.
Hair styling ranges from $20 to $60, she said. Prom students can also opt for makeup, tanning or manicures, all for about $35 each. Spa treatments range from $125 to $500.
Some girls get the royal treatment.
"We have moms who go all out for their daughters," Hall said.
Prom often means a night on the town including dinner.
"We get quite a bit of prom business this time of year," said Simon & Seafort’s general manager Danny Dirscherl.
Three to four proms can be scheduled on one night, filling three-quarters of the restaurant with up to 150 people, he said. Prom diners spend about $25 each on average, he said, and parents often foot the bill.
One prom night stands out in his memory. Three years ago more than 100 prom participants filled the restaurant when a group with a late dinner reservation was seated: Aerosmith. Autograph seekers crowded the table.
"I have never seen stars as accommodating as they were," Dirscherl recalled.
Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon is usually busy on any weekend night, but prom certainly helps business, general manager Craig Cannon said.
"We totally enjoy seeing the young people come in. In my opinion this is future long-term business," he said.
At Glacier BrewHouse prom and homecoming weekends bring teen-age customers who don’t usually visit the restaurant, said general manager Robert McCormick.
He welcomes the extra business. Prom goers spend anywhere from $10 on a pepperoni pizza to $33.95 on king crab legs, he said. However, they spend less than typical diners since they do not order alcoholic beverages, he said.
On prom nights most Anchorage limos are rented, operators said. Prestige Limousine Service, which operates five vehicles, tallies about 15 percent of overall business from proms, said manager Janise Cohen. Other clients include summer visitors and Alaska Federation of Natives conference delegates, she said.
The company receives about 100 phone calls from each school per prom, she said. Prestige limos rent from $75 to $125 an hour with a six to eight hour minimum.
My Chauffeur Limousine Service also sells out on prom nights, although other business, such as weddings and birthdays, contribute to year-round operations, said manager Randy Hahn.
Its five limos can carry from six to 10 people and costs start at $300 for a four-hour minimum plus tip.
Anchorage facilities host several area dances. Total prom attendees range between 500 to 600, said Greg Spears, Egan Civic & Convention Center general manager.
This year the Egan Center will host the Palmer High School prom. However, growing spring convention business has sometimes limited the space available for proms, he said.
The Anchorage Museum of History and Art will host three spring proms plus others in the school year, said Arby Williams, Anchorage Museum Association administrator.
Usually about 800 people attend each event, and prom rates, billed at the city’s nonprofit rate, are $480 for four hours plus $120 for each additional hour, she said.