Pittsburgh Tribune Review: East Liberty Prop Shop Makes Party Dreams Come True

50s  safari

By Rachel Weaver

Published: Friday, March 14, 2014, 5:28 p.m.

A couple feet from a Wild West saloon sits a pirate protecting his booty with a pistol perched on his lap. A nearby gathering of safari animals watches with a towering giraffe peeking down from above as a caged hippopotamus stretches open its wide jaw. Around the corner, a '50s malt shop is right at home next to a Kentucky Derby ticket booth.

This place might sound like it only exists in a dream, but in reality, it's The Prop Shop, an East Liberty business that's been helping set the scene for parties for almost two decades.

“It is fun,” says Steve Weiner, Prop Shop president. “You're doing a happy thing.”

Weiner, of Squirrel Hill, has been in the business of party props for nearly 20 years. It all started when his wife, Sheila, an event planner, suggested that Weiner, then working in the mattress business, try his hand at a new venture. Within a month, his basement, game room and garage were full of props. When the only space left to store a grand piano prop was on his living room table, Weiner knew it was time to branch out.

The Prop Shop works with many local vendors and caters to clients across the country and overseas. If the job is big enough, Weiner will send his staff to coordinate the delivery. He works with artists to create some props, and buys others outright.

The props, ranging in rental cost from $30 to $2,500, are popular for adding whimsy to corporate events, fundraisers, weddings and more. Weiner has set up props in many Pittsburgh-area hotels, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and even private homes.

From the huge “007” sign welcoming guests to the Washington Boulevard shop, to the life-size Marilyn Monroe in standard “Seven Year Itch” pose (“My good luck piece,” Weiner says), there's something for just about any theme.

There are Mardi Gras masqueraders and James Bond character silhouettes. There are Roman columns, giant wedding cakes, carousel horses and palm trees. Weiner says the most popular set is the '50s diner, complete with classic car, countertop, jukebox, milkshake glasses and more.

“The '50s were a fun time,” he says. “It's used for various reasons — maybe a 50th anniversary or someone's 50th birthday. Some just like the '50s.”

For anyone who can't choose just one theme, Weiner has the perfect solution. He recently started using his East Liberty shop as an event venue. He hosted the International Special Events Society during its holiday party when the original venue dropped out at the last minute, and hopes to do more.

There certainly are more conversation pieces than one could find at any other party, from the celebrity-signed stars painted along the walkway to the New York street signs, Eiffel Tower, Broadway signs and more. Even a few pieces of memorabilia from Three Rivers Stadium are on display.

In addition to the more-whimsical items, Weiner also offers tufted and circular bars, tables and room partitions ideal for elegant affairs.

Marty Mundy, event producer with Entertainment Unlimited who has used The Prop Shop for many jobs, says at least 75 percent of parties he helps plan include a theme.

“It creates excitement,” Mundy says. “(The props) transform a room and create a fun atmosphere right away. The guests appreciate what they see.”

Rhea Simon of RSVP Inc. event services has worked with Weiner for a decade on an annual hospital fundraiser gala. They've done themes ranging from “Pirates of the Caribbean” to fire and ice.

“It transforms a typical banquet into a more memorable event,” she says. “It offers an element of surprise, as well. It's a different way of getting a message across.”

The job is not without challenges. Weiner recalls one request from a woman who wanted to re-create Noah's Ark floating on actual water. Seeing no way to create an ocean in a ballroom, Weiner's team created blue fabric to serve as waves instead.

It also can be challenging getting the larger props into certain venues. Weiner recalls a party that included 8-by-6-foot picture frames that guests were to walk through upon entering. They didn't fit into the hotel's elevators, so team members had to hoist the frames up 17 flights of stairs.

It's all worth it when they know they're making people happy, Weiner says.

“When you're working with creative people, everybody helps everybody, which is nice,” he says. “If all the vendors come together, it makes the end result a lot better.”

Details: 412-441-8936 or www.partyprops.com

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

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