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Siouxland looks ‘Uptown’ for its event rental needs

By Brock Huffstutler

January 10, 2024

Angie Jenkins (left) and Emily Painter

Angie Jenkins (left) and Emily Painter

When you are the sole event rental business in a metropolitan area covering five counties across three states with approximately 150,000 people, you might say you have the market cornered on the services you provide. Emily Painter, a key staffer at Uptown Wedding & Event Rental in Sioux City, Iowa, states it plainly when she says, “There are not any rental places as big as ours around here.”

Uptown Wedding & Event Rental opened for business in January 2012. It owes its birth to the exit from the market of a string of other entities in town that had been involved in event rentals.

“There was a United Rental, and the company decided to sell the party rental side of the business,” says Angie Jenkins, who manages Uptown Wedding & Event Rental on behalf of owners Ron Peterson and Jerry Lengkeek. “Two of the managers that worked there — Jerry and Billie — wanted to keep it local, so they called a friend and asked if they wanted to join them in buying it to keep it in Sioux City. They said yes, and it became Uptown.”

Extensive renovations on a former pool and spa business in the middle of downtown Sioux City followed, setting Uptown Wedding & Event Rentals up with the facility it still calls home today.

Items in the company’s extensive inventory include tents, tables, chairs, linens, dishware, décor, A/V equipment, concessions, dance floors, pipe and drape, games and grills.

“We’ve got a little bit of everything,” Painter says, singling out Uptown’s line of bounce houses as exemplary of how the business stands out from other providers in the vicinity. “We have multiple different bounce houses from simple ones to water obstacles and all different kinds. Everybody else that rents them around here does it for a couple of hours where ours can be for a longer term, like a weekend. I don’t think there is anybody else that rents these out, or linens or décor, like we do in this vicinity.”

The distances that Uptown travels to deliver its items also illustrates how it is the go-to event rental resource in Siouxland (the Iowa-Nebraska-South Dakota tri-state area). “Sometimes we go hundreds of miles away: Brunswick (Neb.), Sioux Falls and Des Moines here in Iowa — we go all over the place,” Painter says, noting that the team accomplishes this with only two box trucks and one pickup truck.

Events like weddings, graduations and quinceañeras are a big part of Uptown Wedding & Event Rentals’ business. It also caters to some of the major festivals that are central to the community’s summer scene, like Saturday in the Park presented by Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City.

“Saturday in the Park is a huge, free music festival. It happens the weekend closest to the Fourth of July every year. They’ve had big names there, like Aretha Franklin, Sublime, Darius Rucker, Melissa Etheridge and Earth, Wind and Fire. We set up 20 to 30 tents plus tables and chairs for that event,” Jenkins says, with Painter adding that “It’s a five-day process for us to get everything set and ready to go.”

Aside from being an exclusive event rental provider in the region, the principals at Uptown Wedding & Event Rental feel it is the friendly attitude with which they approach their clientele that truly keeps customers coming back.

“We always treat our customers like we would treat our friends and family,” Jenkins says. “The people in the community know us. People have my cell phone, and they can call me directly. Yes, you always have hard situations where somebody is upset; we just try to resolve it with them.”

“We don’t have those hard situations very often though,” Painter adds. “We ask for a lot of details so we can make sure we always have what the customer needs. We treat them like a friend, so we become connected.”

As far as business challenges are concerned, Jenkins says “the hardest thing that we — as well as the rest of the world —deal with is that it’s hard to find employees. We use Indeed, but a lot of it is word of mouth. Last summer a majority of our employees were my son and all his friends. The thing with our company is that we are a close-knit group. One of our guys moved away a month ago and I think I cried for two days.”

Uptown operates with a staff of four during the slower times of the year; that ramps up to eight or nine during peak season.

Painter relates the story of how she came on board with the team as an example of how word of mouth and relationships can help plug staffing gaps. “Three of our employees are our children — two are Angie’s and one is mine. I met Angie through my son, through wrestling, and became really good friends with her. That’s how I started. I worked for the summers or here and there, and then became full time,” she says.

As she reflects on her employer’s position as the primary event rental provider in a big region, Painter returns to the concept of viewing staff and customers as one family. From her viewpoint, it’s the driver of the business’ success: “We’re family. We’ve had our moments but we’re very close-knit. Treating our customers like they are family and friends is probably the most efficient way to carry out our services,” she says.