August 6, 2002
DCGreeks.com Year One Retrospective
Going Once, Going Twice, Sold Out
It would have been a damn shame to have had a website like DCGreeks.com and not do anything worthwhile with it. We could have easily not done anything. We had established a record of supporting events and causes but not going out and doing anything on our own. It was an easy and safe way of doing things, but it wasn't enough. We always wanted to do some community service with the website, but needed an appropriate, or in our case "inappropriate", method of doing it. Our idea for giving back to the community was simply... a bachelor/bachelorette auction.
The idea for a bachelor/bachelorette auction came to us on the day when we came up with the idea for DCGreeks.com. Our next serious discussion of the topic was at the Rhodeside Grill in Arlington, right after our first DCGreeks.com event, the Captain Corelli's Movie Night. We had a little to much to drink and were joking and kidding around with a couple of people from St. Katherine's
YAL when we got onto the topic. We knew we wanted to do it in February to coincide with Valentine's Day. (Actually we wanted to do it before Valentine's Day, just to inspire people to come and find someone, either from our bachelors and bachelorettes, or just another face in the crowd, before Valentine's Day even became an issue for most folks.) With the help of St. Katherine's YAL, and with the proceeds going towards St. Katherine's Community Center Building fund, we figured that we would get all the help we needed in organizing this event, and that people would come since it was for a good cause.
It was interesting how the events of September actually changed the focus of our auction. Originally, besides the bachelor/bachelorette auction, we were thinking of having a silent auction and live auction featuring items or packages donated by famous Greek-Americans. (It was the height of The Greekest Link, so we were getting a little ambitious.) Imagine an auction where you could get all these autographed items from Greek-American celebrities - a tennis racket signed by Pete Sampras, an autographed headshot of Jennifer Aniston, a chance to be an extra on NBC's Providence (a show which featured two Greek American actresses, one of which grew up in Great Falls), a tour of the Capitol with Senator Sarbanes, etc. As interesting as this would have been to organize, we realistically saw these types of packages as unrealistic given the fact that we didn't know how security issues and airline travel would be in February. We also were originally going to have some of the proceeds of the auction go toward the rebuilding of St. Nicholas' church in New York City, which was destroyed when the Twin Towers came down. We decided against that, because we felt that by February, St. Nicholas' church wouldn't be an issue anymore with the outpouring of money from a nationwide Greek Orthodox community contributing to the cause, and that it would be a lot easier to get support from St. Katherine's and the DC community in general if all the funds were reserved for St. Katherine's building fund.
The first thing we needed was a place to host such an event. We knew that we wanted this to be something big and something memorable, and logistically speaking, we needed a large enough venue to support a live bachelor/bachelorette auction, live entertainment, a dance floor, and a place to hold a silent auction. We didn't want to have this in a church hall. We were thinking a hotel, so we approached some of the hotels in Northern Virginia and D.C. about it. Even with the industry hurting after September 11th, the hotels were still quoting us ridiculously high prices. There were some alternatives were looking into as well. Could you imagine, a Greek event on a boat in the middle of the Potomac, in the beginning of February? Well it almost happened if the price hadn't been so expensive. But finally after about a month of searching we discovered the perfect place, The State Theatre.
The State Theatre was a restored movie theatre exclusively used for concerts and private events. We remember watching The Empire Strikes Back there when we were kids. We walked inside and immediately fell in love with the place. It had all the elements we were looking for: a large stage complete with state-of-the art sound and lights, two dance floors, a large area for food and a separate staging area for the silent auction. It even had the old movie theatre seats in the balcony where we imagined people taking a break from the action to engage in some good old-fashioned people-watching. We even pictured "DCGREEKS.COM
PRESENTS MAGKES & KOUKLES" on the old-time marquees on the outside of the building and knew that this was the place to have an atypical Greek event. The State Theatre gave us a better rate than the hotels and the option of bringing in food from the outside, which was key in lowering our costs. By hitting up the local Greek restaurants and getting them to donate food for the evening we would ensure good food, a lot of it, at little or no cost.
With a place secured, we could start advertising the event more seriously. Actually, we had already started advertising it during YAL DC Weekend, on the back of our business cards that we were handing out that night. The name "Magkes & Koukles" came to us pretty naturally, although we must admit that we didn't have any idea that "Magkes" actually had a silent "k" in it. So with a venue and a name, we next needed the entertainment for the evening. We approached several Greek DJs and even approached the band Zephyros about playing at the auction. We leaned away from DJs and figured that we needed a band to make it more than just another Greek Night. We finally signed Xristoforos and Apocalypsis and knew that we had gotten some top-notch Greek entertainment. Sure it was a little old-school, but we figured that the crowd would appreciate hearing some liaka over the standard Greek Night fare.
As hard as all of this was to line up, the hardest thing to line up of them all were the dinners and other events that would go along with the bachelors and bachelorettes. We lucked out at the November Third Thursday when we met a woman who ended up being both a bachelorette and an invaluable resource in helping us organize this auction. She had so many contacts in the DC area in terms of restaurants and other attractions that would end up comprising the majority of the items we had both in the silent auction and in the date packages. She was also the first person to tell us that our original idea of having the bachelor/bachelorette auction live was not a good idea. How intimidating would it have been for people in the audience to sit there and yell out how much they wanted to spend on any given bachelor or bachelorette? How embarrassing would it have been for a bachelor or bachelorette if they didn't go for as much as the rest of the group, or if they had gone for too much? The silent auction feature of our bachelor/bachelorette auction would at least cure these two problems. As rank amateurs in hosting such a large event, we valued her advice and all the work she did in helping up put Magkes & Koukles together.
Getting the bachelors and bachelorettes to sign up was actually the most difficult of all our tasks. We thought that it would be harder to get girls to sign up than guys, but our initial open call for bachelors and bachelorettes ended up producing more girls than guys. Unfortunately two of them from the Tidewater area ended up canceling for a prior commitment, so we had to get a couple of bachelorettes at the last minute, only to have another one cancel on us, leaving us with eight. We had less bachelors to find because the we had promised everyone we had talked to that for the sake of fairness, we ourselves would be bachelors. It was hard trying to convince guys and girls to be bachelors or bachelorettes, getting up on stage, subjecting themselves to more attention than they'd ever been used to receiving in their lives, both at the event that night, and online in the weeks leading up to the auction, without leaving ourselves open to the same kind of treatment from the DC Greek community. Many of our participants were comforted knowing that we too were going to be up there on the auction block.
As time went by and with bachelorettes dropping out and bachelors nowhere to be found, we called in some favors and started recruiting people we thought would make good bachelors and bachelorettes. We were pleased with the group we had assembled. The final line-up for Magkes & Koukles featured 17 great guys and girls. (Our 9th bachelorette dropped out at the last minute, leaving us only with eight.) While a few of the Magkes & Koukles were minor celebrities in the DC area, even before the auction, the majority of our bachelors and bachelorettes were relatively new on the scene. We managed to assemble a group of nice, down-to-earth people, that anyone would be comfortable spending one evening with at some of DC's nicest restaurants and attractions.
Magkes & Koukles presented us with an interesting dilemma. How could we have a fun event, which was for charity, and have it be a success both as an event and for charity, while still sticking to the principles that we had set forth when we started DCGreeks.com? Unfortunately the realities of the situation turned Magkes & Koukles into a win-at-all cost affair, making us sacrifice what we believed in, for the sake of charity. This was most apparent in our publicity for the event. While we've never been big fans of flooding people with repetitive emails about events, we broke this rule when it came to the auction. We had emails going out on every email list in town that would let us, including the lists of both major Greek Entertainment companies in town. Even though it was for charity, you'd be surprised the kind of flack we were getting from certain organizations in town about advertising our event. Thankfully we made the decision early in the planning process to not have ourselves affiliated with St. Katherine's YAL for this event. We're both very active in St. Katherine's YAL, but we knew that our hands would be tied in terms of the things we could do while flying the banner of St. Katherine's YAL. (It was funny having a parish counsel member trying to explain to the priests at St. Katherine's that a bachelor/bachelorette auction was not an escort service, and it was simply a way to have nice Greek guys and nice Greek girls meet and one day get married.) Our publicity efforts got ridiculous. We had flyers and even Greek-Night-style glossy postcards that we were handing out at every Greek event in December and January.
A week before Magkes & Koukles, there was the last big event where we knew we had to publicize our auction like crazy. It was the debut of Sigma Entertainment's "Envy" Greek Night at Ooh La La, and since there hadn't been anything big since New Year's, we figured everyone would be at this thing. We showed up that night and armed our Magkes & Koukles with postcard-size flyers and told them to work the room. It was shameless, but we hoped that if people got a chance to meet our bachelors and bachelorettes beforehand, then they would be more likely to show up to the actual event a week later. It worked too well, as some of our bachelorettes were being offered money right on the spot for dates and were also being asked for their phone numbers. By the end of the evening we weren't sure how this Greek Night was going to end up helping or hurting the attendance at Magkes & Koukles. There were a lot of out-of-towners who showed up, almost too many, to the point where we got the feeling that maybe they came up for this, and were going to skip our auction the following week. There was also a fight that broke out that night with actual bloodshed, police and an ambulance showing up. Part of us wondered if this was going to detract from our attendance the following week, as maybe people wanted to cool it from a Greek event for a while. On the other hand we feared that whoever was involved in the fight would show up at the auction with their friends looking for a repeat performance.
Perhaps the most desperate thing we did to publicize the auction was to appear on a local A.M. radio show called The Dating Scene. One of our bachelorettes was at a function and was overheard by the host of the show, Stacey, talking about the auction. Stacey didn't even care that this was a Greek bachelor/bachelorette auction. We contacted Stacey and gave her the idea of making the show about dating in the Greek-American community as an example of what it must be like to date in other ethnic minority communities. Really we just wanted to make sure she didn't just invite us on for a couple of minutes to talk about the auction and then kick us off. We also wanted to be able to have everyone tune in and listen for the whole hour and get excited about coming to the auction. All in all, it was a good time but we're not sure how much it helped. We don't think that many people heard the show because it was on a Sunday night and because the station had a ridiculously weak signal that didn't extend that far past Montgomery County.
We were very nervous in the days leading up to the auction. Our presale ticket totals were pathetic. Even our "over-exaggerations" employed to generate more hype and more ticket sales didn't work. We figured if we told people that 400 young Greek-Americans were going to be there, then somehow 250 people would buy tickets thinking that they were going to be missing out on something huge, and this is how we'd hit a respectable number. If a Greek night could get 350 or more at it, there was no reason our event couldn't get at least that many.
The day of the event was one of the longest most stressful days of our lives. We still had the auction program to create and more silent auction documentation to produce. One of us was in charge of that while the other one was in charge of setting up The State Theatre and receiving all the food. Everything happened, just not as smoothly as it was supposed to. The fact that one of us was still wearing an old UVa sweatshirt and an old pair of jeans when many of our guests had already arrived, having to shower and change in the very same green room where Bob Marley's Wailers had showered years earlier, was a testament to how things happened at the very last minute.
We have to admit we really didn't have all that much fun at our own event. We heard that the smaller than expected crowd that showed up that night had a good time. We spent most of the evening in the lobby waiting for that mythical party-bus full of 100 some odd people that we would have needed just to have broken even that night.
The main event itself went well. We asked questions of the bachelors and bachelorettes on stage. They all handled in pretty well. The bachelors even took the liberty of asking us questions. We didn't mind them turning the tables on us. The reason we were bachelors in the first place was to show our volunteers that we were willing to subject ourselves to the same treatment they were receiving.
At the end of the night we did as well as could have expected from both the silent auction and the bachelor/bachelorette auction. Every bachelor and bachelorette received a bid and some brought in phenomenal sums. The bachelorettes in particular did well. We had never seen so many guys rolling up with wads of $100 bills paying for bachelorettes in cash on the spot.
Around 1:30, the music stopped and the party was over. While this should have been the happiest moment in our short stint as
TheGuys@DCGreeks.com, we were thoroughly demoralized. All the effort we had put into producing one of the classiest, most organized events in the DC Greek community (according to what others told us, not what we were thinking at the time) ended up being a financial disaster. We wouldn't have minded so much if this was just a business venture, but this was for charity. We did eventually end up making a contribution to St. Katherine's Building Fund from the money that was brought in from the bachelor/bachelorette auction and the silent auction. We wouldn't have felt right using that money to make up for the fact that, due to low turnout, we actually lost money on the auction. All in all, it was the most worthwhile experience of our careers at DCGreeks.com, despite the end result, and certainly the highlight of our first year.
Part II: Now What?
Part III: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
Part IV: Going Once, Going Twice, Sold Out
Part V: The End
past feature articles.