RICHMOND, Va. -- Love filled the air of the Greater Richmond Convention Center Sunday as hundreds gathered for the Wedding Experience amid a record-breaking year for the industry.
There were dozens of vendors including photo booth operators, makeup artists, DJ's, photographers, and venue owners: a perfect combination for brides and grooms to be.
“This is my first time being a bride," said Saretta Johnson. "I love it."
Johnson is planning to get married in Richmond in September of this year. She met her fiancé in 2009 on the street where her mother lives.
"It's been a long time coming," she said. “I can’t wait to spell my new name."
Johnson wanted to check out the activities at the expo even though she has most of her special day already planned out.
“My fiancé is a Dallas Cowboy fan, and so am I," she said. "Our colors are royal blue, gray and silver.”
Meanwhile, other couples are just getting started on the planning process including Taylor McCormick.
“We're newly engaged," McCormick said. "We just got engaged two weeks ago.”
She recently said "yes" to her college sweetheart and is now looking ahead to saying "I do" at the altar. While she's still in the beginning stages, she said she'd like to get married in the fall of 2023.
“I just want a rustic fall wedding with all of our family just celebrating our love," she said. “So being able to be here in Richmond and look for different vendors for our wedding is just very exciting.”
The event's show manager, Jason Roop, said demand in the wedding industry is soaring after COVID-19 put plans on pause over the past two years. He said 2.6 million weddings are expected for 2022.
“We're seeing a wedding boom," Roop said. "We're seeing the most weddings since 1984.”
Not only was the event a great opportunity for newly engaged couples but also business owners looking to interact in person with potential clients.
“Local businesses are back out booking business for 2022 to 2023 and beyond," Roop said. "People want to talk to the vendors that they're going to be spending their day with in person. They want to feel the vibe, see the service, and get an idea for what these vendors are offering."
Roop said couples who are currently planning a wedding shouldn't wait. He recommends booking as soon as possible.
Rita Baker, a wedding photographer and co-owner of Bakerture Photography and Video, said 2022 is already shaping out to be a busy year for her.
“We're seeing such a high volume of clients," she said. “It is really great being able to see that people are moving forward.”
Baker said every call she took in 2020 was some sort of cancellation, and even though it put her business in a tough spot, she kept a positive attitude.
"We knew it was going to be a phase that we would eventually have a little bit of more of a turnaround," Baker said.
Now that business is back on track, she said she's thrilled to be a part of a couple's most special day.
“It's just a once in a lifetime thing," she explained. "With our photos and with our videos, we do feel we're giving a forever heirloom.”
A big hit at the Wedding Experience was Grapevine's Tipsy Grape.
“It's an open bar on wheels. It's beer, wine, and cocktails," said bartender Sean Gamache.
Gamache said the concept is brand new, having launched in January 2022.
“When people get married and have private events, they need to get an ABC license to serve liquor and alcohol," Gamache said. "We handle all of that. We handle the licensing and the liability."
Like many other businesses within the wedding industry, Gamache said it's going to be a busy next couple of years.
“We're already getting inquiries for 2024," he said.
All the vendors and couples who participated in the Wedding Experience share the same common goal: They're ready to put love on full display despite COVID-19.
“And we’re going to live happily ever after," said Johnson.
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