The $50,000 Kiddie Birthday Party

Limos. Petting zoos. Did we mention spa treatments? When it comes to their kids’ birthdays, status-seeking Philly parents now say it’s their party, and they’ll spend what they want to.

Tiffany Gabbay was shocked.

She’d just opened her estimate from the company that rents carnival-style vending carts for kids’ birthday parties. Gabbay was thinking small, just three or four stands — maybe one popcorn, one cotton candy, one hot dog, one funnel cake.

The total cost: $2,500.

Only $2,500? she thought to herself.

Twenty-five hundred was nothing … not when she had $13,000 to spend. That was the budget she’d allotted for her only daughter’s birthday party. At those prices, she figured she could rent twice as many food carts. Maybe more. So she added churros, ice cream, french fries, pizza, fried -Oreos, snow cones, fresh-squeezed lemonade and soft pretzels. New total: $5,400. “So far,” Gabbay says.

That wasn’t all. She’d already rented three moon bounces — cost: $1,200 — for the birthday bash. Plus carnival games, though she was still debating over those — should she rent them, or just hire a contractor to build them, using her party colors? Which meant, of course, she’d have to choose party colors — either traditional circus red, blue and yellow, or French circus pink, lavender and baby yellow. For the games. And the hats. And the banners. And the streamers. And the balloons, which would be outrageously large, the largest she could find. Hundreds of them. All over her aunt’s backyard in Cherry Hill, where the big event — 160 guests and counting — would take place in October.

Gabbay barely had a month to get it all together. And she still hadn’t heard back from the Philadelphia Zoo — she wanted the portable petting zoo, big-time — and she was still playing phone tag with Stacey’s Face Painting. There were picnic tables to rent. And tents. And linens. And plates and silverware. (“The thought of plastic bothers me,” she says.) There was the photographer to hire. And the videographer. She had yet to settle on the invitations, though she’d just found a design she loved, shaped like a circus ticket, with a scratch-off to reveal the date, time and place. Plus, finding the perfect birthday outfit for her daughter Brielle had already consumed 20 hours of online research. Planning the party wasn’t the hard part, Gabbay wrote on her Facebook status in September: “it’s the outfit for sure!!!”

Even with all that, her biggest challenge was trying to work out a deal with the manager of Gymboree in Cherry Hill. The über-popular gym for little kids insisted that it only hosted birthday parties in-house, but Gabbay wanted the staff to come to the party, to bring their music and parachutes and gigantic tumbling mats.

“That way, my daughter can be involved,” Gabbay says. Although she knows, of course, that Brielle can’t eat the food or jump on the moon bounces or play Skee-ball, no matter what color the game is.

Brielle, after all, is just turning one.