Economy, Sept. 11 keep many at home for holiday

Sunday, December 30, 2001

It wouldn't be New Year's Eve without a little revelry. But a more subdued tone set, in part, by the events of Sept. 11 and a squeamish economy is prompting some Americans to stay home or celebrate at small gatherings with friends this year.

Among them is Lucky Johnson of Cape Girardeau, who plans to spend a quiet evening with her daughter, Ceylon. Since both Johnson and her boyfriend have to work Tuesday, they'll forgo the holiday revelry.

"But we'll be on the telephone together at midnight," Johnson said. He lives three hours away.

For some, celebrating at home is nothing new.

Daniel Shelby of Charles-ton, Mo., said he plans to get together with friends from his church and hang out at one of their homes.

"That's what I did last year," he said. He said prefers a gathering of close friends to raucous parties.

Art teacher Rob Richards of Cape Girardeau will toast the New Year at home with his wife, Linda.

"I've never been one to enjoy myself in public," he joked. "Too many hang-ups."

But not everybody is eschewing big celebrations. Jacqueline Hayward of Cape Girardeau plans to travel to New Orleans with her husband, Paul.

"I stayed at home last year," she said. "This year, I'm going out."

Retailers who specialize in home party supplies are noticing the trend toward homegrown gatherings.

Sal Perisano, CEO of Boston-based iParty Corp., says he's seen a double-digit increase in sales for New Year's party paraphernalia, compared with the same period in 2000. Top sellers include red-white-and-blue party hats and noisemakers, as well as buffet trays and devices used to keep dishes heated.

Late planning

Glen Alley, owner of Carnival and Party Supplies Unlimited in Arnold, Mo., said most people "weren't even thinking about New Year's until after Christmas."

His company has customers throughout Southeast Missouri. Even clients like hotels, restaurants and bars, which order supplies in early December, didn't start buying party supplies until this week, he said.

With a wilting economy, "I think they were trying to gauge whether or not people were going out or not," Alley said.

Alley said he thinks more people are staying home with close friends and family.

"They're pulling in tighter to people they love," he said. "I don't know that people are as excited about welcoming in the New Year with 350 strangers as they were in the past."

Nancy Adams, manager at Factory Card Outlet in Cape Girardeau, said sales of New Year's Eve party supplies have been about the same.

"We're not really a party belt here," Adams said.

Some larger celebrations -- like Denver's citywide party -- have been canceled because of concerns over safety and security costs.

And a lack of money or volunteers and terrorism fears prompted about 20 of 200 communities nationwide -- from St. Louis to Staten Island -- to shelve plans for First Night events, a nonalcoholic, arts-oriented celebration.

In Cape Girardeau, some annual parties are seeing business as usual. Annual New Year's Eve parties at the local Elks Lodge and Eagle Aerie will go on as usual.

Elk Bill VanTroba said the annual "11th-hour toast" will probably recognize the heroes and victims of Sept. 11.

Eagle John Boyd said it's hard to say how many will turn out for their dance, but he anticipates the usual crowd.

"Everybody here's almost family," Boyd said. So an evening at the private club offers the same comfort as staying at home, he said.

Sell-out crowds

With about 300 reservations, the annual holiday bash at Drury Lodge is full, and there's a party across the street at Holiday Inn, too.

While it took a little longer than usual for the New York Marriott Marquis to sell out of rooms for New Year's Eve, the hotel just off Times Square did so late last week -- and was on the verge of running out of spots at its $699-a-couple dinner dance.

New Yorker Deric Nance and his wife also reserved a Times Square hotel for a bargain $100 and plan to be sandwiched with the tens of thousands expected to flock to central Manhattan to watch the annual "ball drop."

"It is our first year in New York City, and we are not going to miss out," Nance says. "The 9/11 attack won't keep us from having fun."

Alan Wolfelt, director for the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colo., says that sort of response is to be expected.

"Trying to prove that things are OK," he says, can be quite normal and healthy.

But he cautions Americans from seeing this New Year's as "closure" on the terrorist attacks and war in Afghanistan.

"There will be a tendency to say, 'Now the year's over. Buck up and carry on,'" says Wolfelt, author of the book "The Journey Through Grief."

"But we need to recognize the events of Sept. 11 were like yesterday particularly for family members and others close to the victims."

Staff writer Andrea L. Buchanan contributed to this report.

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