Hitting Home: Downsizing Weddings

08/24/09 11:28AM By Melody Bodette
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AP Photo/Larry Crowe
(Host) Summer is the busiest season for weddings in Vermont, among locals and out-of-state couples alike.

But some who make their living on these celebrations have found that weddings have changed in the middle of a recession.

As part of our series about the economy, "Hitting Home," VPR's Melody Bodette has more.

(Church Street sounds)

(Bodette) Molly Johnson steps outside the bridal store Sewly Yours and Once Upon a Bride in Burlington. The 27-year-old says she's being creative with her September 12th marriage celebration to Nick Lavecchia. She's taken a few resourceful planning avenues in addition to throwing a potluck wedding:

(Johnson) "I have friends who are making my cake, I have three friends doing the photography, the invites friends made, we're riding bikes for transport instead of renting cars..."

(Bodette) Johnson says it's not so much a response to the down economy as a desire to include people. And she says her guests seem thrilled to bring potato or pasta salad instead of a gift:

(Johnson) "People were much more willing to like the idea of making it a community feeling like weddings used to be with everyone involved families involved, instead of just coming and having to bring a blender or something didn't have an emotional attachment or connection to the wedding."

(Bodette) Johnson estimates her wedding will cost $10,000. If that seems like a lot, it's less than half of what the average Vermont couple spent on a wedding last year.

(Washburn) "Weddings are going back to the basics."

(Bodette) Krista Washburn is editor of the magazine Vermont Vows. She says do-it-yourself is in this year. So is prioritizing the budget:

(Washburn) "You and your husband are foodies, and food is really, really important to you, you're going to work with the best caterer you can. So spending the most amount of money on food... and maybe flowers aren't that important so that's going to be at the end of the budget."

(Bodette) Weddings can be a big business - tents, clothes, cars, food. Nationally the average cost of a wedding was $21,000 last year, but that number is expected to drop this year.  

Spending isn't falling as fast in Vermont, although spending last year dipped to $22,000 from $25,000. Washburn says that's because Vermont's hospitality businesses can tap into local couples and out-of-state couples looking for a destination wedding.

But some couples planning destination weddings are finding out-of-town guests are weighing the cost of coming to the wedding versus sending a toaster. Krista Washburn:

(Washburn)  "The guest counts are down... so from the accommodations perspective, the caterers perspective, the event rental perspective... if you have 20 less people,  that's 20 less plates of food."

(Bodette) That increased number of regrets has left some in the industry, who depend on a certain number of place settings, feeling pinched.

Vermont Tent Company crews are setting up one of the company's white tents for an afternoon event. Mike Lubas is director of sales.

(Lubas) "We had huge jumps in the 1990s into 2000, then it was a slow progression, but 2008 into this year was the first time we've been down in this business."

(Bodette) Lubas says business is down 25% and for the first time, they've had to lay off 7 employees.  Lubas says the number of weddings isn't necessarily down, but customers are definitely seeking out cheaper options, like poly instead of silk for linen rentals.

(Lubas) "We've done a lot less of the high-ticket items, floors with carpet tent liners, chandeliers things that you don't necessarily need, but can definitely enhance your events."

(Bodette) Back at Sewly Yours and Once Upon a Bride, owner Debbie LaFramboise shortens the hem on a wedding gown.

(LaFramboise) "This is certainly probably the most drastic thing I have personally gone through as a business to see the fluctuations this year." 

(Bodette) LaFramboise says months that are normally busy have been slow, and one group of customers is missing:

(LaFramboise) "For those who are really shopping budget who really have to be careful, even our $4,000 dresses that are discounted to $700 are beyond their price range, but for the girls who can and are spending, our average price and investment per bride has increased substantially."

(Bodette) Brides with money to spend are spending it - although they're choosing simpler styles and fewer expensive accessories.

(Bodette) Emily Robinson is perched in heels on a stand, for her gown fitting. She says for her September 12th wedding she wanted to do something different.

(Robinson) "I'm having a carnival, we're calling it a classy carnival, (laughs) slash, circus." (laughs)

(Bodette) Robinson works for a catering company and she's seen many people cutting costs this year, choosing cheaper options like chicken over beef. She chose a fried dough booth for her wedding, but cutting costs hasn't been a priority.

(Robinson) "I've tried to be cautious about it, and knowing that obviously it's not the best economy to have this lavish wedding... but my parents asked me if I wanted to take the cash and run away and get married and I said no."

(Bodette) Robinson says she isn't letting a recession change her plans for a once-in-a-lifetime event.

For VPR News, I'm Melody Bodette.

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