Wedding industry prospers in hard times

December 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Hong Tien Vu/ University of Kansas/ December 3, 2009 (Appeared in The University Daily Kansan)

LAWRENCE, Kan._ Jessica Wenberg did not plan to get married this soon.

Money problems have forced Wenberg and her fiancé to move in together and to marry more quickly than they expected.

“It’s a little rushed, but in this difficult time, we just feel like we need to support each other more,” said Wenberg, 28, an elementary school teacher. “And why not now?”

The decision to tie the knot made by hundreds of other couples like Wenberg and her fiancé have helped to boost the wedding industry in Lawrence, which some companies say is still thriving despite widespread economic uncertainty.

Marissa Garrison, a tuxedo consultant at Savvi Formal Wear, 815 Massachusetts St., said the company had been swamped with orders since spring, prompting it to recruit more employees.

“It is really crazy,” Garrison said. “We did not expect to have weddings in the fall, but people keep coming in.”

Garrison recalled the chaos last June when she and three other staff members handled 26 weddings in one weekend.

“I was running back and forth to make sure that everyone had a chance to try their tuxedos on,” she said.

Savvi has had about 300 tuxedo orders this year as compared to about 200 last year, according to company figures. On average, Garrison said, one customer would need 15 tuxedos for a wedding. Since early summer, Garrison and other company staff members have had to work an extra day every week to meet the increased demand.

Garrison’s company has planned to expand the business to selling more bridal gowns.

“We didn’t think the economy would support it, but we’ve got two cabinets full of orders,” she said.

Blooming businesses

Catering, music services and flower shops in the city also reported a surge in the number of customers this year.

Cary Engle of Englewood Florist, 1101 Massachusetts St., said orders for flowers have doubled since the beginning of 2009. He attributed this increase to more wedding orders.

For DJ Gary Myers, 2009 was a good year for business. He hasn’t always had this luck. He quit his job in October 2008 to start his own DJ service, which he said was his “lifetime passion.” In the beginning, Meyer would check his e-mail first thing every morning to see if he had any new orders. But nothing came through.

“I had put myself under the gun,” said Myers, 27, who is the father of two children. “Things would have been really bad if it hadn’t worked out.”

But as soon as April hit, orders for wedding music began to flood in, quickly filling up his weekend schedules.

“I was like, there you go. You’ve got booked,” he said.

When the traditional wedding season arrived with summer, Meyers even had to turn down potential clients because of his full schedule.

Soon after, he decided to expand his business by investing in more music and equipment. Myers now works with two other DJs and has worked in several cities in Kansas and other neighboring states.

No eloping from hard times

While some shops flourish, others in Lawrence continue to struggle.

Along Massachusetts Street, the city’s business hub, shops and offices are still shutting down, leaving empty spaces and making traces of the economic crisis more visible. Meanwhile, surviving companies were struggling to make ends meet.

On a hot August afternoon at the beginning of the back-to-school season, Morgan Madison, owner of Eccentricity, a fashion shop in downtown Lawrence, was running back and forth to show her customers a new collection of her fashion products. Madison was so busy because she was short-staffed; she had to lay off two of her four employees.

“Because of the economy, people don’t want to spend too much on trendy clothes,” said Madison, 28. “We’ve had to cut back quite a bit.”

Like everywhere else around the world, Lawrence has been hit hard by the financial downturn. The city’s unemployment rate reached 6.4 percent in July, the highest in the last 10 years. Although it is still relatively low in comparison to the national rate, the recession has taken its toll on people’s incomes and the businesses that supported the college town of 91,000 people.

Even in the thriving wedding industry, the effect of the recession can be felt. Businesses who want to keep their clientele must still remain sensitive to the fact that money is tight for their customers.

Savvi has sold tuxedos on sale for $20 or $30. The tuxedos were originally priced between $250 and $2,000. Engle Florist did not see a double of revenues while the orders are as twice as they were before. And Liberty, the catering service provider, has also lowered its prices.

“Our prices for the service went down,” said Nesta Wilson of Liberty. “But people give decent tips too.”

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