Most brides wouldn’t think to take duct tape to their wedding, but just like MacGyver, good event planners come prepared for every possible hiccup.
So when BLC Events founder Barbara Cohen and Elyse Stoner coordinate an event, they always take a suitcase full of extension cords, duct tape, spare lingerie and a host of other miscellany designed to ensure the event goes off smoothly (at least as far as the guests can see).
“Our goal is for the client to be a guest at their own party,” says Elyse, who joined Barbara’s company a year after its launch in 2012. The two had worked together as volunteers on many events.
“In 2008 I had just moved to town and volunteered to help on CBI’s 150th anniversary gala, which Barbara was chairing,” says Elyse.
“We are both detail oriented and think ahead and consider what problems might come up and how to tackle them before the event,” says Barbara.
So when a wedding couple told the two they wanted to bus their guests up the gorge at 5 pm on a Friday, Barbara and Elyse realized the drive that takes 45 minutes on a good day was a recipe for frustration at that time of day. So they made sure the bus was stocked with snack food and beverages.
“The trip took two hours and 45 minutes, so the food and beverages we had made arrangements for were very welcome,” says Barbara. “That’s an event planner’s job – to anticipate roadblocks and avoid catastrophe.”
Barbara moved to Portland in 1996 with her husband, Stuart, a Portland native she met in San Francisco. She jumped into volunteer work, co-chairing the Cedar Sinai Park Development Committee. Over the years, she served on the boards of Cedar Sinai Park and the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland. She spent many years planning events as a volunteer for those organizations, Beth Israel and her kids’ schools. She also helped federation launch the Women’s Philanthropy Committee.
Her son, Will, is 16. Her 13-year-old daughter, Caroline, becomes a bat mitzvah at Beth Israel this month. It was while planning her son’s bar mitzvah that she decided to turn pro as an event planner.
“Will’s bar mitzvah pushed me over the edge to deciding this was what I was going to do professionally,” says Barbara. “I had been doing a lot at federation. I was on the board and ran women’s philanthropy for four years. But when I got very involved in planning Will’s bar mitzvah, I realized that was where my heart was. … Do what you love to do and make a living at it. So I pulled out of a lot of my volunteer work and launched the business. And it got big enough (that) I was able to bring Elyse on to help.”
Not wanting to pigeonhole herself into one type of event, she used her initials and named her company BLC Events. The company’s tagline is “The difference is in the details.”
“I’ve always prided myself on that on a volunteer or professional level,” says Barbara.
So she launched her business in January 2012. Many of her clients had attended an event she planned as a volunteer. Soon she was planning events from intimate dinner parties to events for 1,000, so in June 2013 she asked her friend Elyse to join her. Now the two plan weddings, corporate events and parties of all stripes. They can plan the whole event or do “day of event” management.
“After working on a few CBI events and chairing the Marketing Committee as well as volunteering at a few federation events, I joined the federation staff in June 2011,” says Elyse. But she stayed involved at Beth Israel. She and her husband, Ed, have two sons, Mitchell, 13, and Drew, 10, who attend religious school at CBI, where Mitchell became a bar mitzvah last September.
Both women say the skills they honed planning events as volunteers and the Rolodexes full of hotel and vendor contacts have helped them as professional event planners.
Barbara says as a volunteer, she learned the importance of being able to delegate, follow through on tasks and work within a budget.
“When you put on a volunteer event, you don’t usually have a huge budget” says Barbara, adding that that experience came in handy recently. “We did a wedding on a strict budget. We put on our creative hats to implement” what they wanted while staying on budget.
“I love what I do,” says Barbara, with Elyse adding, “And it’s fun to do it with a friend.”