20210526: The Bridal Show, Part One

The bridal show was a natural outcome of a confluence of events.

  • We bought the B&B in March of 1994, it was a private sale we had worked on with the original owners for 2 1/2yrs. At times, we doubted whether or not the sale would EVER be completed.
  • During that 2 1/2yrs, I had cashed out of the brokerage firm and gone back to university to finish the poli sci and accounting degrees to go to law school and specialize in tax law. That WAS the plan.
  • During the same 2 1/2yrs, a super Wal-Mart opened in our town and decimated several small businesses. I picked up 9hrs of an MBA for a mini-thesis, writing/researching the impact of a Super WalMart on local small biz. One of the biggest statistics, I recall = A single dollar spent at a small biz, turns over 7 times within a local community, generating more local wealth. A single dollar spent at WalMart, turns over 1.5 times, before that wealth leaves the community. I never forgot that number……
  • At the same time, I met a local guy who owned a construction company, fell in love, and we planned to marry. His “shop” just happened to be the largest building in town. It was an old ice house, next to the railway, red brick, with 15″ thick walls. Years ago, it held cotton for export and was a major trading post. It did not burn during the civil war……..cuz of the brick.
  • At the same time, the Federal Gov’t began a project called “Main Street”, with low interest loans to rehab downtowns all over the country. Our Mayor thought the program was a good one.
  • Historically, my family brought the biggest employer to town in the 1960s. My boyfriend’s parents brought the second biggest company to town. Thus, we understood economic development and corporate recruiting, relocation of executives, etc. We were a natural alliance for the Mayor.
  • As the Mayor became more involved in the Main St program, and my boyfriend owned the biggest building in town, and we were looking to buy the biggest house in town….. it made sense for us to find out more about this Main Street Program. We were chosen, along with another guy, to go to the National Main Street Conference in Milwaukee to “find out more” and report back to the town leaders, biz people. Okay, fine, I could spend a week in Milwaukee…..
  • Main St program was a hit and many downtown businesses spruced up. For many, my boyfriend’s company performed the work and I did the necessary doc reporting. Through Ole Miss University, I also helped/served as the liaison on loan docs between Small Biz Assoc and locals for extra funds……. cuz I THOUGHT it might be a valuable contact for the purchase of the B&B.
  • THREE WEEKS before we bought the B&B, a major Ice Storm swept through our area and took out 7 million telephone poles, billions of dollars in damage, a natural disaster like no other. Could not even see the first story of our house cuz of the trees down. In the town, we were without power for 7-10 days and many in more rural areas went without power for over six weeks. Coming through that natural disaster with STELLAR performance, propelled many locals to statewide and national leadership positions. We formed strong alliances….. because we had to in the midst of a disaster.

Okay? So you kind of have the picture of what was going on in the timeline.

We closed on the house on March 7th, 1994. No one lived here for 23yrs, so it was a total gut job. Complete renovation. The house is next door to the town’s school and around the corner from police/fire/city hall. We’re on a major street for our little town, thus all the activity at the house would be in full view of everyone in town……… and much the subject of local conversation.

My boyfriend’s company specialized in historical renovation, thus the house would be his “calling card” for the company. Good idea, right? It was one of the primary reasons the owners decided to sell to us. They knew he would do a good job and polish the diamond that would become our beloved home.

We bought the house as an UNMARRIED couple. I wanted to fix the house, and use the house for our wedding reception. Made sense, right? It made for a charming Cinderella story.

As the renovation proceeded, everyone in town was in and out of this house. I was amazed by the help we received and curiosity of townspeople. One day, I walked into what would become our master bedroom and the Band Director from the school next door was standing in the middle of the room with his back to me.

  • Me to Band Director: Can I help you?
  • Band Director, waving me off: No thanks, I’m just looking.
  • Me, tapping him on the shoulder: You realize you’re standing in the middle of my bedroom, right?
  • Band director, swinging around to face me: Ohhh, I’m so sorry. The door was open and I’ve always been curious about this house. He extended his hand for a proper introduction.
  • People are just……… interested.

Yet many others, my bankers, and a few of the wealthy, secretly longed for my demise. They hoped I/we would fail so they could BUY the house at a bankruptcy for pennies on the dollar. Yeah…… right. But that kind of gossip got back to me and always made me skittish. Failure was NOT an option. I had to succeed, otherwise the sharks would win.

We opened in September, and very soon, one large factory was taking the majority of our rooms. Since we had worked so hard on economic development and to recruit other companies to town, it occurred to me….. if we had 10 more big companies, I could send my kids to college with no problem. Again, there was no business I would turn down…..

Our wedding was in December. House all decorated for Christmas. It was gorgeous. But spending for the wedding was paired down, we did most of it ourselves….. cuz the money went into the house. Nonetheless, I scoured local vendors, trying to keep the business in our little town. Keep the money at home. Economic Development #101. I located about 32 vendors, most of whom were unfamiliar, and I used practically all of them. They were thrilled for the chance at a big wedding and a little bit of public awareness. I was trying hard to keep my dollars ….. LOCAL.

The invitations went out, and we were limited to 175 people. I figured the house could handle 175 without breathing heavy. Husband wondered where I would put them all. People asked me what I wanted for wedding gifts and I stammered and stalled. Yes, we did register with a local fluffy bridal registry, but I really longed for was something else. I told people to go into their attics and PLEASE find something they were not using that they thought would be PERFECT in this house. OMG, the results were amazing. We used practically ALL the wedding gifts for the reception. I made little note cards as to who gave me the dish/vase/tray. That way guests could SEE we were using their gift, immediately.

Each attic treasure I unwrapped gave me goosebumps, and came with a story of their family treasure. In this way, items long stored away, were dusted off and began a new life, bestowed on me from locals who were dear to me. They helped and decorated our whole house. Everywhere I turn in this house are “family treasures”….. from a much larger family. Unknowingly, it made the house more like a “group” project.

Wedding went off without a hitch. Food, flowers, bar, all went well. We had 172 people at the reception. Only 3 did not show up. Normally, you figure on about 60%. Our remarkable turnout percentage would forecast things to come. Cuz, everyone came to our parties…..

We had the family in for Christmas. We had another “Ladies Party” between Christmas and New Year’s where we invited all the widow ladies, cuz they didn’t seem to get too many invites later in life. All Grandma Della’s and MIL’s friends. The ladies get to dress up and they all loved it. We also had a big buffet on New Year’s before the major party at the Country Club.

About January 3rd, I was thinking about the overwhelming task of taking down all the Christmas decorations when the phone rang. Girl across the street got engaged for Christmas and wanted me to do her wedding……. JUST LIKE MY WEDDING, only a spring version.

Huh?

The wedding would be April 8th. She was specific. Seems she and her parents had timed the 300 azaleas in their yard (for the last 20 years) and PEAK AZALEA was April 8th. Okay, fine. She wanted to be married outside, and her Daddy had the plans to build the large gazebo where the ceremony would take place. I had never done a wedding before. What did she want me to do? She wanted to “meet and discuss”. Her mother, sister, and she showed up one afternoon. I had a fresh legal pad to take notes. Of course, there was no business I turned down. Whatever it took to make the mortgage, I would do it. The put down a healthy deposit to ensure my commitment = mortgage paid.

And just like that, I was in the wedding business.

I did make a LOT of notes that day, and started calling some of the vendors I used for my own wedding. About half way through my list, checking prices, one of them suggested I do a big bridal show for local vendors. Huh? Wut is a Bridal Show? “You know, Daughn, your house would make for PERFECT display space”, was the reply. “Just invite vendors to come and display and open up the house for a Bridal Show.” and “I bet you would get a good turnout.”

The idea whirled around in my head. I researched Bridal shows, and pretty soon, the month of January, all I heard on the radio were announcements for Bridal Shows in Memphis for the spring. I guess…….. Bridal Shows were ….. a thing. Okay, I could do that. I was so naive.

I set the Bridal Show for first weekend in March. We almost always have a break in the weather that weekend. First days at 70 degrees, daffodils bursting, and everyone comes out of hibernation. Sounded like a good weekend to do it.

NOT ONE VENDOR turned me down. They all came. We divided up the house for retailers to show their wares. I cut a deal with the local paper to divide up advertising for us all. We took a WHOLE page, every week, for the month prior to the event. Invitations were free but limited to TWO, the Bride and Mom…. or whomever the bride wanted to bring with her. Gorgeous engraved tickets were printed….. done by the wedding invitation guy.

And those invitations turned into pure gold…..

All of a sudden, I had 400+ requests for invitations. Every vendor, it seems, was telling all their prospective customers to “Come to the Bridal Show”……, which meant brides and moms from about 7 surrounding counties. It kind of grew……

My husband was about to lose his mind, “What are you going to do if it rains?” and “Where in the hell are you going to put 800 people? PLUS vendors, and models AND ALL THIS STUFF????” “Honey”, I replied, “Don’t worry. It’s an afternoon event. People will come and go. They won’t all be in the house at the same time.” I will admit, however, I was getting a little worried. Everywhere I went, I saw the bright pink and blue fliers we made all over town……

And then came the phone calls…… women trying to wrangle an invitation. The Bridal Show became an “event not to be missed.”

“Daughn”, said Jerry, President of the plant who was my best customer, “You know damn well I don’t have a daughter who is getting married, but if I don’t come home with an invitation to your Bridal THING for my wife….. I might as well be sleeping in the garage.” I chuckled. I had been so busy, I didn’t realize the Show had become a “thing”. He continued, “I need an invitation for my wife.” I replied, “No problem, Jerry.”, and then, “Hey Jerry, is it okay if I put your wife in charge of the bridal models…… you KNOW your wife has such good taste…..” It was a great idea and she was thrilled.

The days before the show were sheer bedlam as I negotiated and helped vendors with their displays. Husband was completely frazzled. We moved a lot of furniture t the shop to make room. He was in charge of the yard, and I swear, it looked like a team of a hundred men came in, like elves, to transform the space. He built several things that two weeks, added a 250 AMP breaker to carry more electrical load for 4 guest rooms, a marble sign for the B&B, and I could have eaten off the brick walkways. Immaculate.

That day, the weather was glorious.

I enlisted the girl’s basketball team at the local high school for Bridal Models. You see, sample wedding gowns all come in a size 8 and are built for TALL women, so they can be hemmed to size. The girls’ basketball team was a perfect choice. But then, I needed Dads or husband-type male models as well. Right?????

OMG it was perfect. Enlisting the men was the best idea of the whole thing. Made it less “girly”. We do love our men!!!

One of the members of the girls’ team was the daughter of the Mayor…….. and he escorted her. He waited while she descended the grand oak staircase, wearing a 27K wedding gown….. He met her at the bottom of the stairs, gently took her arm, and escorted her through the parlor/library and outside down a long brick walk for the remainder of the fashion show……. And that man, our Mayor, a man’s man, 6’3″ and every bit as tough as steel…….. had tears in his eyes when he saw his daughter…… He held his head high, but he teared up the whole way…..

Priceless moment.

Another member of the girls’ team had a Dad who was a deacon in the biggest church in town, and a close friend to us. That Daddy……. also had tears in his eyes when he first saw his baby girl wearing a wedding gown….. Their mommas were so proud.

Of course, all the male models were outfitted in tuxedos by a local formal ware shop. They were spit-polished and SUPERFINE. Other male models were members of our local police and fire departments, all my buddies, and they looked particularly dashing. We did also recruit Bank President’s, a local state Senator, and a Federal Judge…..

My Mother-In-Law was an “elder” bridal model. OMG, she had a hen party at her house the night before to try on her dress and show all her girlfriends…….. with loads of gin martinis and laughter all around. And she was BEAUTIFUL – escorted by former Mayor who happened to be her boyfriend. She felt like a princess. Grandma Della modeled a Mother-of-Bride outfit, but she had to change clothes as she was in charge of the kitchen for the day.

Five women’s clothing stores put on a fashion show, all day long, continually descending the oak staircase. Lots of linen and silk that day —- no major spills.

We used over 300yds of white and ivory tulle in the dining room, strung from the corners and up through the Baccarat chandelier. We did a good job. Effective statement – a veritable cloud of fluff.

The next door neighbor’s house was commandeered for the female models. They came up the back maid’s stairs and down the front staircase. I can’t remember who did the bouquets, different florists contributed, and the brides announced a lil’ bit about their gown and bouquet. Each one was spectacular. Gents were checked and fluffed in a back bedroom upstairs by husband – who was also a model. The whole house and tables inside and out, it was a floral explosion….

Violinists strolled the grounds. A harpist was set up on the balcony.

The 100yr old oak library shelves were cleared and dripped with fine china, crystal and silver. Three wedding cakes, from different bakeries were displayed, and eventually cut and eaten…. marvelous. The den space and side porch was taken over for everyday pottery/dishes, and rustic-themed weddings. The bbq caterer and three more groom’s cakes in there.

Vendors included hair and nail salons, masseuse, spas, hats, veils, primo estate jewelers – guarded by police – allegedly displayed over a million dollars in engagement and wedding bands- earrings and miles of pearls, shoe vendors, FABULOUS ethnic suppliers for wedding goods, ….. Photographers hung wedding photos on the picture railings all over the house. You can’t imagine all the things needed for a grand southern wedding….. We even had enormous white bird cages out front, lining the walkway, with white doves……

Yeah, white doves.

Did you know the birds are trained to fly home after they are “released” during a wedding? I asked. I wanted to know what happened to the birds…..

The horse and carriage vendor was here and gave rides. The bar was devoted to “designer cocktails” and quite popular. One whole room upstairs was devoted to vendors for the bachelor and bachelorette parties. Interesting items…. Even the bankers/real estate agents took the upstairs hallway in search of newlywed customers. The travel agent gave advice on Honeymoons.

Our catering company took the dining room, and extended the table to 12′ long, with the tulle BOMB overhead. Great food. We also did pink champagne (In a dry county, with the police as my models) and non-alcoholic punch outside. And added the roast beef carver with the chef’s hat at his station. Wait staff circulated chocolate covered strawberries and hors d’oeurves on silver trays all day long. I went through 60lbs of roast beef that day… and almost a thousand of my MIL’s yeast roll angel biscuits.

During the event, I wandered inside and outside as needed. I noticed the police…….. those who were actually working and not in the Bridal Show, had cordoned off the whole street. Too much traffic. I also noticed my best girlfriend across the street,………… She was having a party on her front porch, card tables set up….. with gaudy flowers in the middle, just to watch what was happening…… dozens of my girlfriends were there….drinking wine…… all waving furiously.

One Bridal vendor gave me an exquisite formal ivory suit, raw silk and fully lined, with rhinestone buttons to wear for the occasion. And hey, I looked pretty good.

When the event was over, the men loosened their ties and came out of their jackets. Women changed shoes. We had a vendor party. The beer and bourbon came out. We ate and drank everything that was left. The girls from across the street wandered over…. Some of the vendors moved to immediately pku their stuff, but I told them to relax. We would lock up tonight and they could pick it all up in the morning.

The after-party was terrific and cemented my relationship with many wedding vendors I would come to use for decades.

Late into the evening, a few of the vendors and I were piled up, drinking wine at a table outside. We were discussing our wins and losses and planning to make it bigger and better next year…..when……….. Husband sauntered by with a garbage sack, chasing a few errant “engraved napkins” and said, “I don’t ever want to do this again….” Little did he know, we already made plans….

The best part came a week later. We got a two-page full spread in the local paper. Picture after picture and a wonderful write-up.

Yeah, that Bridal Show idea was a good one.

The second year, was even better…

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3 thoughts on “20210526: The Bridal Show, Part One

  1. Gunner (and his future children) is very fortunate that you record so many memories, and make them so interesting to read. One day he (and they) will be grateful that you took the time to write them šŸ‘šŸ™‚

  2. Just Wow! again. A few videos and camera drones would have made you a utube Star. Not that you aren’t a Star in our minds anyway. Thanks.

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