March 17, 2010

WEDDINGS FINDING A MAINE MARKET

EDWARD D

— By . MURPHY

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John Ewing/Staff Photographer: Wednesday, February 6, 2008....A collaboration between wedding related businesses got together to conduct a photo shoot for their own promotional use. Wedding planner Kate Parker decorates with some colorful accents for the shoot at The Red Barn at Outlook Farm in South Berwick.

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John Ewing/Staff Photographer: Wednesday, February 6, 2008....A collaboration between wedding related businesses got together to conduct a photo shoot for their own promotional use. Models Jessica Frechette (seated) and Ashley Jensen pose for photographs during a wedding photography shoot at The Red Barn at Outlook Farm in South Berwick.

Staff Writer

A generation ago, it wasn't hard for couples to figure out where to get married. The ceremony and reception were typically held close to home.

Today, couples are increasingly opting for different settings -- and Maine is increasingly fitting that bill.

''I'm finding the destination market is definitely growing,'' said Diane York, a wedding planner in Portland.

Of the 21 weddings she handled last year, only three were for current Maine residents, she said.

Location is one of many factors changing in the U.S. wedding industry, which generates $72 billion in annual spending, according to research by theknot.com, a wedding-resource Web site.

The market also is demanding high-tech touches and low-impact sensitivity in an industry in which the season is getting longer and clients are spending more.

During an era of wedding-themed television programs and couples who want their wedding to stand out, it's no longer enough for businesses to offer traditional flower arrangements, reception venues, bands and photography. Success demands an ability to adapt to rapidly changing tastes.

Brea McDonald, who runs a Maine studio for Massachusetts-based Claudia Kronenberg Photography, said the weddings she shoots nowadays are more intimate and personal, but her business has become more technological. It's common now for McDonald to set up a Web site for a couple's wedding photos, so clients, relatives and friends can all place online orders.

Coffee table-style or collage albums also are in vogue, McDonald said. Sophisticated computer programs allow photographers to layer multiple images on a single print, she said.

A just-emerging trend is toward more green weddings, York said.

Some of her clients tell guests that they're forgoing favors and making donations to charities instead. Others want their reception meals served on biodegradable plates.

Ben McCormack of Yarmouth said he and his fiancee, Nora Connors, are looking to hold a ''practical'' green wedding when they get married on Cousins Island in September.

He said guests will be able to go to the ceremony on a chartered bus, to limit the number who will be using individual cars. The wedding and reception site are within walking distance, he added, and they are asking the caterer and florist to use locally grown food and flowers when possible, to cut down on the amount of shipping required for items in their wedding.

''We'd like to make this as clean and green as possible, from local food to trying to cut back on the number of things we send out in the mail'' by using a wedding Web site for updates on plans, McCormack said.

McCormack, who has hired York as the wedding planner, said he was surprised to find out how many caterers and other vendors are already booked for a wedding that's not only seven months away, but also in late summer, rather than in June.

As theknot.com puts it, October is the new June, and that expanded window eases some of the seasonal nature of the industry.

Jeff Maldonis, events manager at The Red Barn at Outlook Farm in South Berwick, said October is usually the first month to be booked up at the reception facility attached to the Links at Outlook golf course.

September goes next, he said, followed by August and July. June is next, he said, but there's also increasing interest in December, and he's had an inquiry about a New Year's Eve wedding.

''For the fall season in this area, a lot of couples say, 'We can go to Maine,' '' said Maldonis.

Couples figure they can stay near the ocean for less than in the summer, and the weather is still nice enough for outdoor activities, he said.

Maldonis said the facility was successful almost from the day it opened last September. He said 95 percent of this year's Saturdays are booked for weddings, and someone has already asked about availability in February 2009.

''I was pre-selling this before it was even up,'' he said.

A reception generally accounts for about half the cost of a wedding. At The Red Barn, prices range from about $8,130 for a buffet reception for 120 to $12,549 for its top-of-the-line package. Saturdays require a minimum of 120 guests, and there are discounts for those willing to move the reception to a Friday or Sunday.

That expense helps explain why a typical wedding budget in Maine now runs from $16,000 to $25,000, York said, not far from the national average of about $27,000 -- roughly double the average cost in 1990.

''There are definitely very high-end weddings that take place here, but they're few and far between,'' she said.

The costliest York has handled, she said, included $120,000 for food and drinks alone at a private setting in Port Clyde.

York's fees start between $600 and $1,650. She provides help on selecting a site for the wedding and reception, schedules meetings with vendors and coordinates events. The higher-priced packages include unlimited consultations in person or via e-mail, RSVP management, contract management, and handling all the payments and tips for vendors.

She said one of the first issues a couple must address is how much they are willing to spend.

''I don't care if you tell me $5,000 or $50,000, I just have to have a figure,'' York said. ''It's very important to go into a wedding knowing how much you can afford.''

One problem, York said, is that couples will watch shows about weddings on television and expect to have some of those touches in their own.

The budgets for those weddings ''start at $500,000 and it's ridiculous, but they (couples) get ideas,'' she said. ''You do not want to go into hock for this wedding.''

One factor driving costs higher, she said, is that a wedding often involves far more than the ceremony and reception. Rehearsal dinners have grown to 50 or 60 guests, with couples adding relatives and friends who travel far to attend, York said.

And the wedding doesn't end when the last guest leaves the dance floor. A Sunday brunch is becoming customary, she said, sending guests on their way with yet another meal.

York said that higher costs are leading couples to ask special friends or relatives to chip in. One might be asked to pay for a DJ, she said, and a groom's mother recently offered to pay for the flowers, even though most of those costs are typically borne by the bride's family.

Others might chip in by helping pay for ''save the date'' cards that go out to alert guests that a wedding is coming.

But despite all the new trends, higher costs and different styles of weddings, York said one part is fairly constant and traditional: the ceremony.

York said her job is to get the couple to that point without undue stress so they can focus on the most important part of the day.

''Getting them through that 15 minutes is a huge part of what I do,'' she said.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

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