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Owner of retail chain turns partying into serious business

It's always party time at Bob Zurcher's office.

No, his employees do not run around in funny hats or eat cake and ice cream all day. But they are surrounded by colorful plates, decorations, costumes and balloons.That's because Zurcher owns Zurchers, a small chain of retail party supply stores that recently moved its headquarters to Salt Lake City.

Zurcher grew up in Boise, where his father started a wholesale novelty supply business in 1952. After Zurcher finished high school and some college, he learned about business by working for his dad.

His father eventually stepped out of the business and, in 1972, Zurcher converted part of the wholesale operation into a retail store.

"I always wanted to try retail," he said. "I could see the potential for faster growth (in party supplies)."

That growth has slowed in recent years, Zurcher said, but the industry still has potential. He has maintained a large store in Boise and, about six years ago, opened another in Twin Falls, Idaho.

"There wasn't really the population base to build another store (after the first two) in that area," Zurcher said. "And for some reason, Utah just hasn't had the big party stores move in yet."

So Zurcher looked to the south, opening a store in Riverdale last July and in Salt Lake City about two months ago. That store, at 389 W. 1830 South, is the company's new headquarters.

Zurcher said both Utah locations have posted strong sales, although he would not release the company's financialdetails.

He said he hopes to open a couple other stores along the Wasatch Front, but he will not say when or where.

"The large chains are looking at the area, so we want to beat them to the punch," Zurcher said. "We just want (to expand) in the Utah valley and maybe eastern Idaho. You get much larger than that, and you lose some of your advantage over the big chains."

One of those large chains, New Jersey-based Party City Corp., has more than 280 stores worldwide and is considering expansion into the Salt Lake market, but it has yet to settle on a site.

However, Zurcher said his stores can compete. They average about 10,000 square feet and offer 10,000 items, including everything from tableware, balloons, hats and costumes to bulk toys for school carnivals, life-size cardboard cutouts of famous people and baby shower supplies.

In addition to a large inventory - and wide aisles to keep it from crowding the customers - Zurcher said his keys to success have been closing on Sundays, focusing on cleanliness and customer service and offering big discounts.

"We can react quickly to price changes (at competing stores)," he said. "We've tried to be sure that we're very competitive in this market. We do shop other locations."

Zurcher, 47, moved to Alpine with his family about a year ago. Any of his five children are welcome to participate in the family business, he said, but he is not sure whether Zurchers will be passed on to another generation.

As Zurcher said he learned from his father, "Nothing's permanent but change."