Big dreams vs. economy

Visitors to bridal expo react to tough times in different ways

August 18, 2008|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

Tennille Stokes started planning more than a year ahead of her wedding so that she wouldn't have to draw from her savings.

She's nixed a limo, planned the ceremony and reception in one location and reduced her guest list from 250 to 100 - and even contemplated a smaller ceremony with only a dozen people at one point.

"I don't need a lot of flowers, I don't need a big DJ," said the Northeast Baltimore resident, engaged since April, as she perused the exhibits at yesterday's Baltimore Bridal Show with maid of honor Tenille Ross.

Some of the brides, like Stokes, remained firmly rooted in economic reality even as they and hundreds of others strolled through the dream-oriented displays at the Marriott Waterfront. They were already looking to life after the wedding - looming house payments and other necessities that would be placing demands on their bank accounts.

But for others, tough times have done little to dim their radiant plans.

"Weddings are a vibrant industry whenever," said Marc McIntosh, the show's producer, who organized the 130-vendor event at the hotel. The show follows one that McIntosh put on at the convention center in Baltimore in February.

Weddings being planned now often have been budgeted for a year or two, unaffected by recent economic developments, he added.

Still, McIntosh said, there might be some cost-cutting in light of the economy's current state: opting for a $20 entree instead of one for $22, or spending 90 percent of what one would normally have budgeted. He recalled one reception venue saying more people were booking on Fridays and Sundays, instead of the popular Saturday.

"Wedding planning is economy-proof - brides are going to spend the money," said Deborah Joy Block, who runs Wedding Dance Specialists in Alexandria, Va., with her husband, Brian. "They want to remember their wedding as a great day."

Surrounded by virtually every possible facet of that special day - DJs and live bands, cakes and stationery, makeup and hair artists, florists and photographers, even exotic bedroom toys and lingerie - the brides-to-be might have struggled to cling to fiscal responsibility.

But Cynthia Wilson of Mount Washington, who explored booths with her sister Crystal and friends, used the event to look for ideas.

"We have to live after May 2," said Wilson, referring to her wedding date. So she and her entourage were scoping out ways to do certain things, such as favors, themselves - at a lower price.

Yet as the Wilson sisters and friends Tonya Blue and Keshawn Golson studied the elaborate, multicolored rose arrangements from florist Ann's Garden, they seemed to agree that this would have to be an exception.

'We'll have to splurge'

"We'll have to splurge for this one," Crystal Wilson said.

For vendors, clients have ranged from seeking the usual nuptial extravagance to a more cost-conscious planning that they attributed to the faltering economy.

More brides are comparing prices before settling on a company to rent items such as place settings, tents, tables and chairs, said Karen Abrams, an event and tent consultant with Taylor Rental/Party Plus.

"Everyone is shopping much more this year," Abrams said.

Nicki Gonzalez, a vocalist with Elan Artists, which provides live music, said she has noticed people are not "indulging in the extravagance" as much.

"Music ends up being one of those things where, if they can downsize to a DJ, they will," Gonzalez said.

Downsizing has been a factor in the kitchen, too, with more orders of cakes for shorter guest lists, or bakers offering to make a smaller version of a multi-tiered showpiece, along with a less expensive sheet cake on the side, to accommodate larger weddings.

"We get a lot of people who aren't willing to pay what they used to," said Jordan Fewell, whose mother owns SugarBakers in Catonsville.

Some people are simply planning much further in advance, so costs don't overwhelm them, said Christopher J. Sikora, general manager of Sweet, an Ellicott City-based bakery and cafe.

Before the groom

"Most of these brides planned their weddings even before they met the groom," said Sikora, as one prospective customer after another snatched samples of almond, chocolate-chip and vanilla cake at his booth. "They're not going to be willing to compromise on a lot."

The price tag did not seem to be an immediate concern for Tara Lacidonia, 21, who is planning an April wedding.

"My dad said there's no budget," she said - although, her mother added, that might change once he starts seeing the bills.

Still, Lacidonia said, if she sees something she likes, she'll go for it.

After all, it is her wedding day.

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