Is It Time for a Rent Party?

The origin of the rent party dates back to 1920s Harlem, a corner of Manhattan approximately fifty blocks long and eight blocks wide. During this period in our nation’s history some 200,000 people of color migrated to Harlem from the West Indies, Africa and the southern United States. Some reports indicate that as many as 7,000 people lived in a single block.

One can imagine the living conditions were far from ideal. In a word, Harlem was a slum. But the difference between Harlem and say, a typical tenement area of that era, was that because of the high demand, rents were excessively high.

Tenants found two basic solutions to keep the roofs over their heads. The first was to take in boarders or “roomers,” packing the apartments with two and even three families. Often they slept in shifts.

The second was to have a rent party. Also known as a house party, someone had the idea to throw a party just before the rent was due and invite paying guests to enjoy food and music, and dance the night away. Parties were so crowded and the dancing so intense, these parties also became known as “shindigs.”

For an admission price of ten cents to a dollar, plus the cost of food and drink, the parties were an easy, inexpensive way to help out friends and have a good time to boot. Soon bands were hired and rent parties became the backbone of Harlem nightlife through the 1930s and into the 1940s.

Today we’re living through our nation’s biggest economic downturn since the Harlem Rent Party era. The Tanque Verde Valley doesn’t physically resemble Harlem in any way, however, the current socio-economic climate has some similarities.

An article in today’s paper with the subhead, “It was great while it lasted,” suggests Arizona’s economy needs a detox. “Population growth put thousands of Tucsonans to work this decade, building for actual or expected new residents. But now many of those workers are facing the downside of depending on growth.”

According to the foreclosure listing service RealtyTrac, some 96,000 properties in Arizona, mostly homes, are either scheduled for auction or are now bank-owned. This service also reports that Pima County has 7,137 properties that are either in the foreclosure process or have gone back to banks.

I’m witnessing friends lose their homes for a variety of reasons and silently pray each night that we won’t be next. We’ve been very lucky to have this desert oasis home, a refuge from the harsh winters of Northern Wisconsin and an escape from the business that runs us ragged. It’s been a wonderful place to raise our children. As far as they’re concerned, it’s their only home. Losing this place and moving back to Wisconsin for the remainder of their middle and high school years is simply unfathomable.

What’s our solution? Take in a boarder? Possibly. But then my husband wouldn’t have a place from which to operate the business that’s been getting the mortgage paid.

So, how about taking a page out of Harlem history. How about a rent party?

I’m not musically talented enough to entertain my friends at the piano, and most of my musician friends from the days of yore (days of the Dead?) live in other states. But there’s one talent I do possess and that’s jewelry. I design it, I make it, I sell it.

Our store is back in Wisconsin and our wayward webmaster has officially given up on getting our online shop to function properly, so I need to arrange a date and a display, and invite friends over to hopefully fulfill their jewelry wishes.

People still need birthday presents, anniversary gifts, mother’s day trinkets and just the right accompaniment for that special outfit, right?

To preview some of my newest work go to: Dream Life Designs Jewelry. Priced at the 1920s equivalent of ten cents to a dollar, you’ll have a good time looking and there won’t be any sore feet . . . or hangovers.

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