IS EVERYBODY READY FOR A PARTY? Laura Gibbons is.
Last August, she and her husband, Jay, opened the Partyology Firm at 411 East 8th Street just off Asbury Avenue. She figures if the new party planning business can survive in a pandemic year, it’s going to really take off as the world reopens.
“I feel being here is a good thing because I feel the parties are going to come back,” she said. “It may take a little longer, but they are coming back and I want to be the person that people look to for ideas for fun stuff.”
Fun is part of her motto, Laura said. “Now it’s, ‘Let’s make it fun in ’21.’”
The Ocean City site is a second location for the business, with the main location in North Brunswick under the name Showstoppers.
“We’ve been in business for about 20-something years,” Laura said. “I know what to do if anything goes wrong at a party or an event. I’m the go-to person.”
Laura and her husband first came to Ocean City for a visit.
“Because during the pandemic, everything shut down. We were trying to figure out what to do. All my parties cancelled. You couldn’t decorate a venue,” she said. “I took a bike ride here and I said, ‘you know? There’s no one down here that does what I do.’ This store had a big vacant sign on it and it came with an apartment. I said let’s give it a year and we’ll see.”
With Night In Venice and multiple other events cancelled in 2020, she got creative. That included organizing drive-by events for birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones, decorating yards and finding other ways for folks to celebrate together even while keeping their distance.
That included launching a series of scavenger hunts around town.
“They’ve been great,” Laura said. “We did one in January. We gave you a list and you went around town and you had to do things.”
That could mean finding the big orange octopus in town. (Hint: it’s on a miniature golf course near The Flanders.) Another task involved going to your house of worship and making a video of what you are thankful for.
“They had so much fun doing that. Now we’re doing them for birthdays,” she said. She customized another for 13-year-olds, including finding a shell on the beach and making a wish when throwing it into the ocean. Participants take a video of each task on their phones.
They’ve also done baby showers, girls’ weekends and other events. As safety restrictions ease and people are again able to gather, she expects an outpouring of enthusiasm similar to the Roaring ’20s a century ago.
The 1920s theme was part of the theme in the window of her storefront, but with wine bottles re-labelled as “giggle juice” in honor of Ocean City’s status as a dry town. She said having a brick-and-mortar presence has helped stoke interest in the business, saying several locals have told her how glad they are to see the business.
“People are so grateful we’re here,” she said.
It’s a small store, but with room for multiple displays, including a gift box she designed to cheer up someone who needs it, called “Just what the Doctor Ordered.”
Behind the counter, she’s got a few items to keep her spirits up as well: an old upright piano, a twirling baton, and a trampoline.
“When I need an idea or something or just need to feel better I jump on the trampoline,” Laura said. “I hate it when things are quiet.”
She’s been taking piano lessons, not for parties, just for herself. Her piano teacher gave her the piano, which has recently been tuned. “I got it from the church so I call it a gift from God.”
Laura started out with a record store.
“Now I’m dating myself,” she said. She sold vinyl records and CDs, and that launched her work as a DJ. She studied design and décor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, which introduced her to the latest trends and styles. “I’d go to these parties and I’d say, ‘Oh, my God, these decorations are horrible,’” she said, which started her working to decorate for events as well.
Now, she can help prepare for any event, including setting up catering and live music.
“We show up, and we provide everything,” she said.
That’s meant building a network of talented people, and knowing what musician will fit which event. The same with catering services, she said, citing one she said is a fabulous cook.
“I know when he’s doing a party, he’s going to do a great job for me,” she said.
According to Laura, it’s not just about logistics. The focus is to make it fun.
“I can prescribe what they need for a party. When they come in, I ask them ‘what are you celebrating? What do you want to do?” she said. “It’s all about creating a raving fan. About doing more than anyone else.”
For instance, she described an event for Blue Moon beer, which had a moon theme. She got an astronaut to participate and put together a moonrelated trivia contest to play at the bar.
“If you know the answer, you’ve got to go “eeerp” and buzz in,” she said, pressing an imaginary button on the counter in front of her. “So let me hear your buzzer.”
It was clear that the interview would not continue without a buzz for the question about what dance Michael Jackson made famous. The attempt may have been a tad half-hearted.
“A little lame there, anyway,” she said. Next question: “What is the definition of mooning? But please don’t do it here! After I did 100 of them, I wrote a book.” She had a copy of her “Highly Hysterical Trivia” on hand.
As the summer heats up and the fun starts again, Laura plans to be ready.
“The parties are going to happen. It’s just a matter of when,” she said. “It may take a little longer, but they are coming back and I want to be the person that people look to for ideas for fun stuff.”