IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Couples get those wedding day recession blues

In these hard times, wedding experts are increasingly dealing with what they call “budget brides.” Left behind is an army of caterers, dress makers and photographers whose livelihoods depend on the bigger-is-better attitude.
/ Source:

You’re getting married soon, but the economy is in the tank. Maybe that over-the-top wedding isn’t such a good idea.

For the first time this decade, the cost of a wedding — now averaging close to $29,000, according to Wedding Report Inc., which researches trends in the wedding industry — is expected to dip slightly. In these hard times, wedding experts are increasingly dealing with what they call “budget brides.”

“We get a lot of professional girls who are concerned about not wanting to spend a lot of money on a wedding dress,” said Geraldine Brower, owner of the Bridal Garden, an appointment-only wedding boutique in Manhattan. “They’d rather put it towards a down payment on a house.”

Other common tactics include staging the ceremony in a public park and plugging in the iPod rather than hiring a deejay. Another target is food costs.

The National Association of Catering Executives said a survey of its members showed that 48 percent reported that couples were spending less on catering this year. More than 10 percent said they were noticing an increase in wedding cancellations because of the economy.

“Everybody’s looking to save a dollar these days in this economy,” said Heather Lowenthal, an event planner in Jupiter, Fla.

Arden Levine, a rent administrator in New York, found a way to save money on her wedding rings.

“We’re actually melting down my parents’ old wedding rings — which, given the cost of gold these days, is a really cost-efficient solution for us,” said Levine, who is busy planning her wedding to Aaron Dobish in September.

‘Thinking about the dollar’
Left behind is an army of wedding planners, caterers, dress makers, photographers and hall managers whose livelihoods depend on the traditional bigger-is-better attitude.

“We’ve noticed brides taking a little longer to make decisions — maybe hesitating, maybe cutting back on some of the big things they would have done,” said Orie Kambouris, manager of A Bride Beautiful in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Kambouris said that spending usually dipped during an economic downturn but that recent trends were pronounced.

“We definitely see a difference,” she said.

At Alta Moda Bridal Boutique in Salt Lake City, a stronger euro and a weaker dollar are also taking their toll.

“Most of my gowns are made from European textiles — Italian silks, French lace — so the dollar doesn’t buy as many meters of lace as it used to,” owner Hilary Anderson said.

Not even the cake can escape the economy. Cake makers said it was increasingly common for couples to serve sheet cake while displaying a Styrofoam cake for the pictures.

Heather Berntsen, owner of Ambrosia Exquisite Wedding Cakes in Salt Lake City, said brides were still buying, but they weren’t thinking as big as in years past.

“People are thinking about the dollar and what they can get for it,” Berntsen said. “That’s where you see it more: scaling down a little bit, minimizing things, maybe going for a smaller cake.”

Couples left holding the bag
Where it gets cruel is when the cycle completes itself. A combination of the bad times and couples’ penny-pinching is driving many wedding companies and service providers to the brink.

And when they go under, it’s the bride who gets it.

“I ordered a dress, a veil and a tiara,” said Courtney Fish, who paid nearly a thousand dollars for the outfit she planned to wear at her wedding next month but has nothing to show for it after Lori’s Bridal & Formal Wear abruptly closed in Cold Spring, Minn.

And she was only one of about 300 brides-to-be who did not receive their orders when the shop closed in late April, police said. They said they were collecting the names of spurned customers and were trying to determine whether Lori Parsons, the shop’s owner, would face charges.

Fish said she got a discount and ordered new dresses from another shop, but paying for two weddings is still tough to take.

“It’s your wedding day. It’s not like it’s not a big deal,” she said.

It wasn’t an isolated event:

  • Brides in Rockwall, Texas, had to scramble to make new arrangements after The Wedding Cottage, a popular wedding chapel, shut its doors without notice in the spring. “This is supposed to be the nicest day in your life, and then you’re in your wedding dress in front of a closed door,” said Mariana Schmidt, who had planned to marry Jerry Sanders at the chapel.
  • Ellen Scott had already put down a $500 deposit to get married at Captain and the Cowboy, a plantation in Apopka, Fla. She paid $7,000 more on May 10. The next day, the plantation closed. “Obviously, there is no food,” Scott said. And “we have no wedding cake.”
  • Jesse Stanley and Kelly Bristol of New Britain, Conn., had planned to have their wedding reception in August at Joe Black’s, a restaurant in Hartford. They put down a $2,000 deposit nine months ago. Then it closed, without warning, in late March. “I didn’t read anything in the wedding book that told me how to plan for your reception place closing,” Stanley said.
  • Dozens of brides were left dressless last month after La Bella Sposa closed overnight in Charlotte, N.C. “It’s a very bad feeling, like, what am I going to do?" said Lisa Justice, who paid $3,200 for a dress four months ago. “I had seen it in a magazine. I splurged!” 

Nationwide, news reports and forums at Web sites like Weddingbee and Project Wedding bristle with tales of caterers’ closing, photographers’ folding and dress makers’ disappearing. Often, marooned couples have no one to turn to.

But not always.

Timberly Belk’s father put down a $1,200 deposit to reserve Zinfandel Grille for her wedding to Ben Rudeen in Rocklin, Calif., next month. The restaurant closed last week.

It’s “horrible, and there’s not much you can do,” Rudeen said. “She’s not too happy. I’m not too happy.”

Bob Leach, owner of the Rocklin Park Hotel, where the independently owned restaurant did business, said he would rebook events at another venue or refund deposits. He’ll hire a caterer and put on the events himself if he has to, he said.

“We’re not about to let some bride, mom or dad lose their opportunity to have a wonderful wedding situation,” Leach said.