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Not even a global health pandemic can keep well-known event designers Sharon House and Carole Saad down. The respected Ottawa businesswomen are instead rising to all occasions with their new pop-up events venture.
The women plan to work their party magic on the business community by helping corporations and other organizations hold social gatherings while respecting public health rules.
They've partnered with four exclusive venues: The Westin Ottawa’s TwentyTwo, 50 Sussex, the Infinity Convention Centre and The Urban Centre.
As the nights grow longer and the days get cooler, the coming months will be gloomy without live social interaction, they say.
“There are a lot of people, in general, who want to move forward with some smaller, safer events and they don’t know how to go about it,” said Saad, who was joined by House at TwentyTwo, a scenic rooftop ballroom and meeting space at the Westin. “As leaders in the industry, it’s our job to come up with a concept and the infrastructure to say this is how we can execute an event."
The pair recently started booking pop-up weddings, offering couples a package price. They and their local suppliers stand to make some money, but only if enough people tie the knot.
“We won’t know until we try,” said Saad. “Everyone was willing to take that risk.”
The businesswomen have more than 20 years of experience in the events industry. They hope to outlast the pandemic with a little bobbing and weaving.
“There are always opportunities – you just have to open your eyes and look for them," said Saad.
"There are always opportunities – you just have to open your eyes and look for them."
While on the subject of pivoting in a crisis, House is also opening a new grocery store, called Noor Food Market, in the heart of Westboro. It specializes in Lebanese, Mediterranean and Canadian food.
House and Saad are full of ideas, big and small. They'd like to make it easier for a larger number of people to gather in smaller groups, simultaneously across their four partner venues, while having all the parties stay connected virtually. They’re working on an innovative concept for this fall that could bring as many as 200 people together under one roof in a safe environment. They would also like to add a live musical component to support local performing artists.
As well, they’re offering the “party in a box” experience for people who prefer to stay at home with friends. They’ve come up with a “spa retreat” theme. The curated packages will contain local products, House added.
“We’re trying to keep everything as local as we possibly can.”
Saad has regularly collaborated over the years with House, who's technically her business competitor. Among the events they worked on last year together was an exclusive benefit with the world-renowned environmentalist Jane Goodall, held at 50 Sussex.
“We always try to work together and support each other, through good times and bad,” said House.
“There’s not one person who's going to be able to do this on their own,” said Saad. “Nobody is going to emerge from this and say, ‘I saved the events industry on my own.' We are really all going to have to come together to collaborate. This is going to be more important than ever.”
The women were both running thriving businesses before the event industry came to a screeching halt in mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Saad was enjoying a steady annual increase in business with her companies, Chic & Swell Event Designers and LouLou Lounge Furniture Rental. House, owner of Avant-Garde Designs, is known for her work with such major events as the National Arts Centre Gala, the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards gala and Kaleidoscope of Hope, among others.
The last five months have been “extremely stressful” and upsetting, said the women, who had to let staff go and come up with new strategies to stay financially viable during these uncertain times. Throughout it all, they’ve tried hard to stay calm and hopeful.
“I always choose to see the silver lining; I always choose to stay optimistic,” said Saad. “Even in the darkest of times, there are still opportunities. I truly believe that is what has kept me afloat. Today is another day."
House was one of the driving forces behind the volunteer-run Operation Ramzieh that began delivering food to seniors at risk in March.
“It was honestly very therapeutic,” said House. “I saw how there were so many others who were worse off than us.”