Urban Toddler Birthday Parties on a Budget

By Kathy Zucker

My son’s birthday comes at the worst time of year. After a whirlwind of family visits during Thanksgiving and Christmas, I usually wake up on December 26th and realize I have made zero preparations for a birthday party taking place in less than a month. Add in New Year’s Eve and Chinese New Year celebrations, and I am really off my game at this time of year.

In past years, my husband and I would quickly throw together a guest list and line up entertainment for an at-home party. After our apartment got completely trashed last year, on my son’s third birthday, we looked at each other and said, “Never again.”

Birthday parties in the Hoboken area can be incredibly expensive. At local child gyms like Kidville, they start around $650 for 15 kids. Everything is provided, from the birthday cake and pizza to gift bags, but the price goes up as you add on items like ice cream, plus the 90-minute timeframe can be tough to manage with late party-goers and napping kids.

My kids’ birthday parties typically include multiple-sibling families, a shifting RSVP list, and people arriving at different times. I started looking for locations with plenty of space and flexible timing. That meant skipping the franchises and talking to local parent-owned businesses.

If you are having a party for kids under age three or hosting a baby shower, one great option is the upstairs party room at the recently opened Chocopain Bakery in downtown Hoboken. For a couple hundred dollars, you can fit up to fifty people into an incredibly comfortable space decorated in French country home style; toile-upholstered sofas, oak dining table and chairs, and a child play area complete with toys, soft mat and blackboard. You can cater the food with Chocopain’s incredible organic sandwiches on freshly baked baguettes or bring in pizza. The best part? Chocopain is BYOB; unusual in bar-crowded Hoboken and much cheaper than purchasing drinks through the host establishment.

At ages four and five, my children’s friends tend to be very active and to have at least one sibling. That made Cobra Fencing, located in the Lackawanna warehouse where the Cake Boss is filmed, the ideal place to host a cold-weather birthday party. With 25,000 square feet, a kitchen area and cafeteria, there is plenty of room to setup a craft table and inflatable hockey rink for the little kids while older siblings jump rope and work off energy during their introduction to fighting with practice swords. With the 2012 London Olympics looming, this was the perfect opportunity to host an Olympic themed party, with medals awarded to all participants. Bonus? There is a large onsite refrigerator to chill drinks¬†and a microwave where you can heat up snacks from Costco.

What do these two locations have in common? DIY. The Jersey City A&P grocery store is located one block away from Cobra Fencing, making it easy to load up a car with drinks and snacks and drive to the free parking lot across the street to unload the goodies. Combined with pizza and a $20 helium tank from Target, you can throw a relaxed 40-person kid birthday bash for under $500.

Kathy Zucker, serial entrepreneur and mother of two toddlers, writes about juggling career and family in an urban setting. See what Kathy is up to at her blog and on Twitter.

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  1. Hi! I’m trying to through a first bday party for my 5year old daugher who’s going to turn 6 this May. Since everything is quite expensive in Hoboken and would like to stick to under $500 budget for 12-20 kids, I’m trying to rent a space for a day for 3 hrs but I couldn’t find any!! I’ve read your article about the cobra fencing place which I think is amazing, but they are not returning my calls nor email so I guess I have to call them again but I was wondering if there’s other places like cobra fencing that you can recommend near Hoboken/Weehawken/Jersey city? I love the fact that the time is flexible and I can do DIY.

    Pls help!


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