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Scaling Back

Schools, organizers, students find ways to spend less on proms

May 24, 2009
By ZACH SUBAR, The Leader-Herald

The Johnstown High School prom this year went on as scheduled. Students showed up last Saturday night in sharp tuxedos and evening gowns, and they danced at St. Patrick's Masonic Lodge before moving on to the high school for the after-prom party.

But a number of little things were different this year. Junior class prom advisers and members chose to make their own invitations instead of having a company create them for more money. Prom organizers also chose to have the prom at St. Patrick's again, instead of trying to move to a different, possibly more expensive, location. They used dusted-off, old decorations they found in the basement of the high school.

Junior class adviser Rebecca Bacon, who helped plan the prom this year, said the Johnstown affair is traditionally relatively frugal. Many students come to the prom on floats and via other unorthodox methods of transportation, and do not have to rent limousines as a result. Still, things were different this year, in part because donations dropped somewhat.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Kelly Griffin of Johnstown, left, is assisted by Shelby Fonda, the owner of Adirondack Mousse Salon and Spa in Mayfield, as she tries on a gown and necklace at the store Thursday.

"We were always thinking economy," Bacon said.

At high schools across the country, the traditional prom spectacle at a ritzy hotel is giving way to crepe paper-covered basketball courts as the recession eviscerates jobs and roils budgets. That is causing teenagers, their families and schools to make careful choices about how much to spend and on what.

With some proms already conducted, and a few more in the coming weeks, this area is no exception.

"I don't think there's as many kids that go to prom [compared to the number] that used to go. Between all the expenses they have, dinner and flowers and the whole nine yards, people just can't afford that much anymore," said Belle Fiori owner Karen Coppola.

Johnstown is not the only school that has cut back. Mayfield High School Principal Robert Husain said the district was able to cut prom costs in half this year by keeping the prom local and having it at the Johnstown Holiday Inn May 30. It helped arrange for some students to purchase used prom dresses.

Americans spend $6.6 billion a year on proms, including an average of $70 for prom tickets.

Coppola, whose Johnstown store has dresses, tuxedos and flowers as well, said the expense of the prom, at this point, can sometimes be too much for some students to handle. Many students, she said, went the least-expensive route for buying prom accessories.

"What is really hard for these kids is that there's so many different events that are going on throughout the school year," Coppola said. "No matter what group they are involved in, they have money they either have to raise or come up with. It's kind of hard."

Adirondack Mousse Salon and Spa owner Shelby Fonda, whose store is in Mayfield, said the prom, for some, has become more of a do-it-yourself affair.

"It hasn't been as much as past years," Fonda said of business at her store. "Girls [are] doing their own hair."

Fonda said she is offering more discounts to high school students who come into her shop, and has begun a program that lets proceeds from prom dresses sold go to a school of the customer's choice.

Her shop also is offering a good number of dresses for consignment this year that range from $50 to $200 instead of the $500 and above the gowns can sometimes cost.

The Fonda-Fultonville High School junior class also jumped on that same bandwagon in January-it hosted a sale of "lightly used" prom dresses that month for $75 each.

The economy has also affected novelty businesses that do not sell prom clothing.

"It has been slower," Primavera Limousine Service owner Marty Quinn said of the season. "With the limousine business, the insurance is there whether you rent it or you don't."

Quinn, whose business is in Gloversville, was forced to cut his three-limousine fleet down to one in January thanks to such concerns. In going to proms this season, Quinn said he has noticed fewer limousines parked outside prom halls compared to other years.

He said he has also offered discounts, noting "in this economy, you have to be able to wheel and deal."

The Johnstown prom, meanwhile, has come and gone. Bacon said the prom was a success, but parental help was instrumental during a year in which prom planners did not have as much money as they normally do.

"I think people are tapped out," Bacon said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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