NC Wedding business hears registers ringing again

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 6, 2011

By Ray Martin
Raleigh News & Observer
RALEIGH (AP) — The economy has presented some hurdles for bride-to-be Jamie Bafaro.
Her fiance lost his job and had to take another for a smaller salary, forcing some wedding adjustments.
“The pay cut changed things,” said Bafaro, who lives in Raleigh.”We might even register for our honeymoon, or even string it out and push it back further. But we couldn’t even think about it before now.”
The Triangle — which produces platoons of college graduates and is a magnet for young singles from elsewhere — is fertile ground for wedding businesses. But the market for big weddings softened with the recession.
In 2009, there were 5,603 marriage licenses issued in Wake County, the region’s biggest county. The total — down 4 percent from 2008 — was the first decline since 2000, according to data from the Wake County Register of Deeds.
Couples scaled back, delayed and — in some cases — canceled plans.
“It got a little scary in 2009,” said Dominick DiGirolamo, owner of Forever Bridal Productions, the Raleigh company that organizes The Wedding Show, an expo at the N.C. State Fairgrounds on Saturday and Sunday that featured 160 vendors.
But things are picking up. In 2010, there were 5,907 marriage licenses issued in Wake — a decade high.
And vendors are more optimistic in 2011. Consider:
Paperwhites, a Cary company that makes stationery and wedding invitations and programs, saw revenues double in 2010 compared to 2009. Owner Sarah Litty said weddings were fewer and smaller in 2009 — so much so that she dropped the minimum number of invitations customers can order from 50 to 25.
In 2010, typical requests for 100 or more invitations returned. One customer even ordered 400 programs, she said. This year, Paperwhites is projecting record profits. “Suddenly, the floodgates have opened again,” Litty said. “Weddings were a lot smaller, and I think a lot of people put their wedding off until 2010 or 2011.”
Brandy Angelo, who owns the wedding photography business Portraits by Angelo with her husband, offered bargain-basement rates just to fill the schedules in 2008 and 2009. Most customers bought Angelo’s cheapest package, which is about $1,200 for four hours of photography.
In 2010, she said, many more couples opted for a $3,500 package that includes a professional album and six hours of shooting.
Angelo said she expects business to climb further this year.
Raleigh wedding planners Jamie Howell and Stephanie Cisko said many of their customers who were engaged in the past three years stayed engaged longer to save money and wait for the economy to pick up steam.
They’ve seen more couples have weddings without real flowers, or reuse wedding bouquets for tables at the reception.
Many couples also are ordering simple wedding cakes — without detailed flowers or other designs, said Lorie Murray, owner of Simply Cakes in Cary. Simple cakes can be a dollar or two cheaper per serving than extravagant designs.
There has also been a spike in destination weddings, where couples can save thousands by booking a honeymoon and getting the wedding for free or at a deep discount at that honeymoon spot.
Lynn Thomas, owner of Alpha World Travel, said she booked from 25 to 30 destination weddings over the past two years. She averaged about five a year before that.
Though weddings are being postponed and planned on tighter budgets, brides are finding that delays can be an advantage.
“We’ve had to scale back the venue, and wait an extra year to save,” said Jontue Hinnant of Durham. “But the extra time helps you get more with a tighter budget. It will work out.”