I Do, Up North

REGION – The mood at the 17th annual Downtown Bridal Show on January 9 at the Traverse City Opera House was fun, flirty and fantastic. If that's any indication, the economy won't hold back the wedding industry Up North in 2011.

"I just met someone here from Tucson. They're having a couple hundred guests come in for their wedding," says Terry Pendock of Kingsley Cakes. The couple visited friends here and fell in love with the area. Pendock says that attendance at bridal shows has been increasing, and right along with it, many couples' commitment to having the wedding of their dreams. If scaling back is necessary, Pendock says couples will decrease the number of guests before they give up something else.

Angela Gardner with Northern DJ Connection out of Lake Ann says that destination weddings make up more than half of their business. "More weddings are taking place outside lately. Beaches, the scenery outdoors, are what draw those to choose an outdoor ceremony and/or reception," she explains.

Steve McCardel, editor of the Michigan Wedding Guide says that he isn't seeing any sort of cutbacks on weddings in relation to years past. And he notes, it seems like more people have been tying the knot in the last two to three years than have in years past. "It's still the excitement of getting married," he says.

Operations Manager at Grandview Catering, Jen Foltz, has noticed that brides are more budget-conscious, but so far this year, many couples she's working with are planning extravagant events.

Destination weddings are a large portion of Grandview's business, too – about 80 percent. "People have either visited up here or grew up here and moved away, but want to get married here," says Foltz.

Anne Coulter, a certified special events professional and accredited bridal consultant from Traverse City, says that many of her clients are from Detroit, Chicago and New York.

"Probably 98 percent of my brides have fond memories of summers spent in Northern Michigan and they want to share that with their fiancé and extended family," she says.

Coulter notes that she sees a lot of couples put off marrying for a year or more to save money in order to have their dream wedding.

Though she says décor is usually first to get cut, many couples add extra guest events to the wedding itinerary – prevalent especially among couples hosting a destination wedding.

"More people are planning activities for guests to spend more time here and to share Northern Michigan and all the activities we have to offer," Coulter adds.

Allison Beers, owner of Events North, also sees a new trend on budgeting. "The brides that I have worked with are conscious of their budgets. While their budgets tend to be larger, they are still trying to watch every dollar spent.

In the past, a budget was set, but if something really unique came up, it was added. Now, as unique items come up, Beers and her clients try to save in other areas to squeeze these items in.

Karen Jackson Snyder, co-owner of Frog Pond Village in Interlochen agrees: "There is no change with the number of weddings coming to Northern Michigan, whether it is from downstate or out of state. Our number of ceremonies and receptions is actually up."

Still, she says she does see budget-conscious brides cutting costs with DIY efforts: "More personal and homemade crafts created for favors. Mom will make homemade jelly and decorate the jars in the couple's theme color. Or, Dad will cut birch branches with a slit in the top for guest place cards."

"We are seeing more chicken and beef rather than fish and tenderloin; smaller wedding cakes, and cherry pies on the side; more flowers, but garden flowers rather than roses; rehearsal dinners for 50 or under rather than a bigger party going out for an expensive meal," Jackson Snyder adds.

Mary Carroll, president of the Benzie County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau says destination weddings are very popular in Benzie, and there are still just as many weddings as there were pre-recession. "We have been getting inquiries about getting married on the beach in Frankfort or in one of our halls in the area," she says.

Bob Sika, co-owner of Greystone Mansion in Honor, the new Visions at Center Pointe and more, believes more couples are marrying up here now than five or so years ago.

Many times, locals are hard-pressed to nab a wedding date at one of their venues even though the number of banquet facilities in the area has more than doubled in the last 10 years, says Sika.

From wineries and B&Bs to halls and other wedding venues, there are so many to choose from it's dizzying. Sika has noticed smaller weddings these days, as couples aren't willing to forego the venue, or the gown, or the dinner choices.

The economic slide hasn't affected couples who are planning their nuptials – especially in Northern Michigan. So plan, plan and plan some more. With so many beaches, inns, wineries, halls, and even more choices for food and entertainment, this is definitely a destination for weddings. Recession? Not here. BN