Say ‘yes’ to the 802: Places to choose from and how the wedding industry is helping Vermont | arts and culture

MANCHESTER — Who wouldn’t want to get married in southern Vermont?

Whether amidst the splendor of fall colors, intense greens of summer or even the dazzling white of winter frost, there is something about the region’s charming small towns, breathtaking mountain scenery and enchanting rustic pastures that make lasting memories for couples and their guests.

Consider Manchester, a commercial and educational center of 4,500 people on the River Battenkill, wedged in a narrow valley between the Green Mountains and the Taconic Range in Bennington County Northshire.

Most consider Manchester a four-season resort, thanks to its historic links to fly-fishing, golf, skiing, restaurants and shopping. But Manchester has another claim to fame, which is also an economic engine for the region: every weekend, visitors arrive here as nervous brides and leave as happy honeymooners.

“It’s important to the region and it provides predictability,” said Steven Bryant, whose hotel group includes The Dorset Inn, The Barrows House and Old Gray Barn, in addition to several area restaurants. “If someone commits to a marriage, he will come here. The passing guest can cancel. Marriages are committed six months to a year in advance. This allows for better planning of everything.

In 2021, Manchester City Clerk Anita Sheldon issued 145 marriage licenses. Only 24 of them went to residents; the rest went to out-of-state couples, mostly from New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The rest went to couples from 16 other states and Washington, DC, and as far away as Oregon and Arizona.

Weddings account for half of Equinox Golf Resort and Spa’s annual banquet and catering business in Manchester, according to Robert Booth, sales manager at the historic hotel. The same goes for The Wilburton, said Tajlei Levis, the historic inn’s wedding and special events director.

“It’s very nice to know that our summer is basically sold out,” said Levis, whose family has operated and owned the historic mansion overlooking the Green Mountains for 35 years. “Most weekends are already booked. … I know how many staff we need. I know many things in advance.

While Northshire is just a slice of southern Vermont, its variety of accommodations — from quaint inns to grand hotels — speaks to the range of options available to couples when choosing the region for their big day. .

Although prices and settings vary, what draws people and keeps them here is Vermont itself, in all its glory. Every innkeeper and hotel manager we spoke to said the same thing: couples usually have a connection to the state when planning a wedding here, whether it’s a vacation home, d an annual ski trip or the wedding of a family member or friend.

“There are many reasons why they come to southern Vermont. A lot of the ones I hear are ‘I went to school in Vermont or spent summers here’ or ‘My grandparents have a second home here,’” Booth said. “We hear ‘We want to be here. It’s nice.'”

Saying “yes” in the 802 also has economic benefits. In addition to hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts and employees, many vendors, retailers and service providers – bartenders, florists, waiters, photographers, caterers, hairdressers, musicians and DJs – can earn a living serving couples. on their big day.

“Let’s say you have 200 people for a wedding,” said Carmine Cole, director of private functions at Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home, in Manchester. “These 200 people are in town in local hotels, motels, hostels and Airbnbs. These 200 people eat several meals a day apart from the one they get in Hildene, not to mention all the shopping in town as well.

In a letter to Governor Scott during the pandemic, the Vermont Association of Wedding Professionals estimated the state’s wedding industry to be worth $164 million a year.

The 36 weddings held each year at Hildene, the family estate of Robert Todd Lincoln, represent about $400,000 in revenue for the association’s $3 million operating budget, according to its president, Brian Keefe. That’s part of the reason Friends of Hildene is replacing a near-permanent event tent with Lincoln Hall, a 14,000 square foot building that will also provide year-round event space for educational programs and operations. of restoration.

On Route 7A in North Bennington, the historic Park-McCullough Governor’s Mansion also depends on weddings to generate revenue that helps maintain the 35-room mansion. It hosts 15 to 20 weddings a year, according to Jeanne Mintrone, head of events and tourist groups for the association.

“We are refusing reservations for October. We are already booked through 2024, and September is right behind. Fall was much more popular than summer,” Mintrone said.

“It’s a lot of the natural beauty of the area,” Booth said. “They want to be outside. I would say the Equinox Pond Pavilion is the most requested venue we have – almost all weddings want to take photos by the pond. When you have this backdrop, the photos look great.

“I think there’s something cozy about the Vermont brand that blends in,” Bryant said, noting that the area is only a four-hour drive from the New York metro area. “People crave that nostalgia, that Norman Rockwell fantasy.”

Many venues can and will host weddings year-round, but the majority report that fall and summer are the most popular seasons, in that order, and plan accordingly.

“It’s funny how many times we get a wedding asking for September and October, asking, ‘Can you tell me exactly when the leaves are going to change?'” Booth laughed.

That said: When mountains are covered in frost and trees are covered in snow and ice, the effect is magical, Booth said. Last year, after an ice storm, “the pictures they took of the trees shone. Everything was covered in diamonds,” he said. “We tell people, fear not – it’s a magical time of year to be here.”

Weddings involve a lot of moving parts. Luckily, for couples looking to get married in southern Vermont, local venues and vendors have plenty of hands-on to make sure the details are perfect for the couple, family, and their friends. The area’s hotels and inns pride themselves on being a “one-stop-shop” for couples – whether they can offer on-site activities, have a list of preferred vendors to choose from, or simply suggest things to see and do. until the big moment comes.

At the Equinox, the resort is large enough to host multiple events over the weekend, whether it’s cocktails on the veranda, spa treatments for the bridal party, or a round of golf. “It’s really simple for the couple to schedule a touchpoint,” Booth said.

“People really appreciate having everything in one place,” Levis said of The Wilburton’s rural campus. “They can have a Friday night welcome party, bonfire…the ceremony, cocktail hour and reception can all be outside, and 100 guests can stay here, so no one has to drive. Once you are here there is space to connect in different ways.

Bryant also noticed how a shared destination brings families and friends together.

“There is something about a destination wedding that resonates. It’s multi-generational,” he said. “Vermont as a whole is less than four hours away for a lot of people. The world is kind of chewed up, and they see Vermont as a safe place.

What if you don’t want to bring any guests at all? The Kimpton Taconic Motel website offers an “Escape to Elope” package that includes an officiant, on-site ceremony, complimentary one-night stay in a suite, three-course dinner at Copper Grouse, with champagne toast and Moreover.

For Peggy Brockett and Briana Wilkins of The Lily of the Valley Florist in Manchester, who make 95% of their business from weddings, the challenge of customizing arrangements for each couple is rewarding.

“Bringing their vision to life and being such an important part of their wedding day. These are photos they will have forever,” Wilkins said.

“That reaction, that feedback from them is the best part,” Brockett said of the couple’s happiness. “When you can make someone’s dream come true, it’s a good feeling.”

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