In late March, Heather Davis and her then-fiancé, Nick Gray, gave a deposit to a nonprofit garden club venue in the Tampa, Florida, area for their Dec. 3 wedding. A signed contract followed days later. Then they were removed from the calendar, and their deposit was returned.
“I got an email telling me we had been bumped because they double-booked,” said Davis, 29, a supply-chain consultant for ArganoArbela, a technology consulting firm based in Irvine, California. “There was panic and anger. I thought, ‘This can’t be right; this can’t be real.'”
The couple’s search for a replacement site proved challenging. “Ninety-five percent of everything we looked at after we got the email was booked,” Davis said.
They then turned to a nontraditional option: a cigar factory.
Pandemic postponements paired with post-pandemic engagements have made finding availability at typical spaces — hotels, wineries, upscale restaurants and resorts — increasingly difficult.
As a result, many couples have been forced to get creative in their searches, considering everything from bowling alleys and movie theaters to bookstores and libraries. Here are four outside-the-box venues that can host nuptials.
The J.C. Newman Cigar Co. in Tampa, where Davis and Gray booked their wedding, is one of the country’s oldest family-owned cigar makers. Last year, the facility, which makes 50,000 to 60,000 machine-rolled cigars and 300 hand-rolled cigars daily, added events to their list.
“We didn’t realize it would be such a wanted experience,” said Karissa DiPillo, the company’s event and community partnership coordinator. “We thought we’d only get a few couples. We already have 23 weddings booked in 2022 with every Saturday in October and November taken.”
Aside from a lack of availability at more traditional venues, DiPillo attributed the upswing in interest to couples wanting distinctive spaces and experiences. “We do the cocktail hour on the first floor, which is where the store and museum are; our reception desk doubles as a bar, and cigar rolling machines are used as tables,” DiPillo said. “The second floor is the hospitality room where we do dinner and dancing. The third floor is where we have the ceremony.”
The space can accommodate 150 guests. The cost to rent one floor is $4,500; each additional floor is $500. The space is available for rent from 10 a.m. to midnight. Tables, chairs, parking and security are included. Catering is extra.
Closer to home
Are you a Chattanooga-area couple planning a wedding in a nontraditional venue? Or maybe you’ve already held your ceremony in an unconventional space? Send details to Life@timesfreepress.com for story consideration.
For bibliophiles, shops like Manhattan’s Housing Works Bookstore and the Strand offer nostalgic, romantic and cozy settings. The Strand hosts weddings in its rare book room; for events at Housing Works Bookstore, the lighting on its mahogany bookshelves is dimmed and votive candles are added to its spiral staircases. Ceremonies there usually happen in one of the nooks under the balconies, while sit-down dinners, cocktails and dancing occur on the main floor.
“Over the past four or five months we’ve seen a 40% increase in inquiries,” said Elizabeth Koke, creative director at Housing Works, a New York City-based nonprofit group with a focus on fighting AIDS and homelessness.
The organization’s mission, she added, “is appealing to folks who want to spend their special day giving back. All the proceeds go to Housing Works services: housing, health care and advocacy for social justice.”
At Housing Works Bookstore, Koke said that “the rate of bookings hasn’t changed, so we are still doing 40 to 50 weddings a year.” But, she said, “We are booking further in advance, especially since so many people want a Saturday.”
Capacity for a seated dinner is 135; for cocktails, it is 175. Costs for a five-hour event include a $5,000 tax-deductible membership fee, plus another $5,000 to $10,000 for bar pricing, rentals and staffing. Catering is additional.
DRIVE-IN MOVIE THEATERS
In 2016, Four Brothers Drive-In and its adjacent restaurant in Amenia, New York, added weddings to their offerings. John Stefanopoulos, an owner of Four Brothers, along with the nearby Millerton Inn, in Millerton, New York, said bookings have increased since the start of the pandemic.
“Once COVID happened, people went nuts. It amplified the movement to do nontraditional weddings,” he said. “Couples are going to local places rather than franchises.”
Stefanopoulos cited the desire for off-the-beaten-path experiences and outdoor options as attractions. Plus, couples have the opportunity to play their favorite film in the background. “We usually do the reception and cocktail party on our patio,” he said. “The ceremony takes place under the tents, and dinner and dancing happen in front of the big screen so you can watch while you’re eating.”
An eight-hour event for up to 200 people at Four Brothers costs $30,000 to $45,000 for the space, movie, food and service. Add-ons like tents, tables, chairs, DJ, photographer and flowers, or any other arrangements that Four Brothers can provide, such as shuttle buses, will increase the cost by another $10,000 to $15,000.
FlowerSchool New York is a floral design school by day and a venue space, known as ILA Penthouse, at night. Everything from designing, staffing, planning and executing the plant-focused menu happens in-house at its more than 4,000-square-foot space on the seventh floor of a building in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
“The amount of venues and staffing has decreased while people getting married has increased,” said Calvert Crary, the school’s executive director, who estimates the space will host 100 weddings next year.
Crary said flowers are part of life’s celebratory occasions and speak to all guests. “A floral design studio makes sense to host a wedding because we have a strong aesthetic and tons of flowers,” he said. “Setting them up is really easy because they’re all here as opposed to moving them to another location.”
The space, which starts at $4,000 for a six-hour rental and costs $500 per hour after that, can accommodate 200 guests for cocktails or 150 for cocktails and dinner, and includes flowers and tables with décor, linens and chairs. In-house catering and botanically infused cocktails are priced per person in addition.
All of the décor, Crary added, “is either composted or reused by us. We have a strict no-single-use-plastics décor policy.”