Island visitors and residents may have cut back on many extravagances as the economy slowed this summer season, but weddings were not on the list.
“The economy does not seem to be affecting the desire and the interest in destination weddings to Martha’s Vineyard,” said Sue Curley, event coordinator at Tilton Rentals, a company that rents everything from tents to forks for celebrations here.
“It might just be that people are going to continue to get married, regardless of what the economy is doing,” said Jim Eddy, of Big Sky Tent and Party Rentals. “It’s odd because while other people are out complaining about the economy, all this gloom and doom, these people are out partying.”
Across the Island, the reports from Island caterers, pastry chefs and inn keepers were the same: people are scaling back the size of their weddings, but not the quality. The 2008 summer was a busy wedding season and calls already are coming in for 2009. Foreign clientele is up. And while their clients may not be feeling the financial squeeze, many Island businesses are taking measures to offset the rising cost of fuel.
“I have more calls for 2009 than I can possibly, sanely and effectively answer,” said Patrie Grace, wedding and events coordinator. “We are far more booked for ’09 than we were at this time in ’08.” Ms. Grace runs her own business, With Grace, and works cooperatively with Island caterer V. Jaime Hamlin.
Although the pace of the summer season has not slowed, Ms. Grace has noticed a change in how customers discuss their upcoming weddings. “I think more people are just being budget-conscious,” she said. “There are a couple of ways I’ve noticed it. Whereas at one point, everyone may have been invited to Friday night dinner, now we’ve gone back to the old tradition of inviting only family and the wedding party,” she said. Other clients have opted to use one tablecloth instead of two or are ordering simpler floral arrangements.
Many are hosting smaller weddings. “Clients are trying to refine the guest list a little bit, to stay within a certain number,” Ms. Grace said.
Ms. Curley of Tilton Rentals agreed. “Wedding sizes have been smaller in number. Where they used to be 200, 250, 300, now they are anywhere from 80 to 130,” she said. “Maybe they’re doing weddings that are smaller in numbers because the cost of a weekend stay here seems to be getting higher.” She is optimistic about the state of the Island wedding industry. “We have been as busy if not busier than last year,” she said. “Our bookings for next year are heavier than they were at this point last year.”
Ms. Curley also noticed some changing trends. “We have had more weddings in the heart of summer — July and August — which is the most expensive time to come here,” she said, conceding it’s economically illogical.
The company has had to tack on a fuel surcharge to offset rising fuel costs. “We had to, because of gas prices and our trucks being so big. We’ve never done that before, but it has not seemed to be a problem in the weddings we’ve done. People seem to understand,” she said.
Similarly, pastry chef Valerie Stoyer of ValCakes has added a delivery charge to help offset rising gas prices. Based out of Edgartown, Ms. Stoyer this summer began charging a $25 fee to deliver cakes to her up-Island clients. She said her business has not been affected by the rising cost of flour and milk. To cut costs, some of her clients have been ordering cupcakes rather than tiered wedding cakes. Others will stick to a simple sheet cake. But overall, this season has been busy, and Ms. Stoyer has already received calls from couples planning weddings next June and September.
“The wedding industry is immune to the slowdown in the economy,” she said. “People are always going to get married regardless. They may cut back in some ways. They may not get as big of a cake or will spend less on alcohol, but other than that, if people are going to get married, they’re going to get married.”
“It’s been interesting. We haven’t seen that much of an impact,” said David Zeilinger, manager of the Beach Plum Inn in Menemsha. “Obviously, certain shoppers aren’t shopping anymore. You may lose one client, but you pick up another.” Mr. Zeilinger said the people who choose to have a destination wedding tend to come from industries that are succeeding in the economy. “At one time it was the dot-commers,” he said. “Now, it seems to be the oil people and foreign visitors.”
Caterer Jan Buhrman of The Kitchen Porch also has had an increase in foreign clientele. This season she catered the weddings of four Canadian couples and three European couples. Two Canadian couples have already booked her for next year.
She has noticed no sign of scaling back. “If anything, [the weddings] are more elaborate,” she said. “Usually it’s first course, dinner, dessert. Now it’s first course, intermezzo, second course, dessert and then an after-hour party,” she continued. “And it’s not just Friday, Saturday, Sunday anymore. It’s definitely Thursday, too.”
Mr. Eddy of Big Sky offered a few theories as to why this season was busy. First, he has observed that the wealthiest of clients have not yet been touched by the recession. Secondly, he suggested that people save for their weddings for years. Thirdly, he has observed that people on the Vineyard are cutting expenses in other ways. “I’ve spoken with a number of landscapers who say their clients are cutting back with grooming and new plantings. That must be where they’re cutting back, because they’re not cutting back on their parties,” he said.
As for why next year appears to be busy, he said, “Maybe people are out getting their pricing earlier, trying to do their homework to see if they can even afford to do it on the Vineyard.”
Mr. Zeilinger suggested people were optimistic about 2009. “I think anyone who’s kind of held off making arrangements for ‘08 really began making arrangements for ‘09,” he said.
Ms. Grace offered this: “My own personal theory is that there will continue to be weddings and babies. It’s the intimacy of families coming together.
“Once people come across on the ferry, I think Martha’s Vineyard gives permission to do it the way you want and that’s part of the appeal here.”