TOM VAUGHT | SUN
Danny and Jenan Wood kiss after renewing their
vows at the mock wedding that highlighted the
Fifth Annual Anna Maria Island Wedding Festival.
The couple has been married for 18 years and
the officiant was Rev. Charlie Shook.
HOLMES BEACH – The attendance may have been down but the enthusiasm was up and the wallets were out at the Fifth Annual Anna Maria Island Wedding Festival this past weekend.
Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce officials said Monday that even though the turnout was slightly smaller than last year, the roughly 350 people who did attend were much more willing to spend money.
"The vendors were really thrilled," said Chamber Vice President and event organizer Deb Wing. "There were some serious buyers out there and a lot of vendors got bookings."
Wing cited Big Jim Allen's Ukulele Weddings and Caladesi Steel Drum Band as two examples of vendors who cashed in on the buying attitudes of attendees.
Chamber President and CEO Mary Ann Brockman said the demographics of those attending were affected when the date of the festival was changed from Feb. 26 – right in the thick of the tourist season – to the first weekend in May, when the visitor ranks are thinning.
"During season, there were a lot of people staying here who decided to attend the wedding festival because it was something for them to do during their stay," Brockman said. "They weren't going to book or buy anything, but they had a nice time eating and visiting the vendors."
Wing said she would recommend the May date again because it was easier for out-of-town visitors to book rooms.
"This worked out," she said. "We were able to put heads in beds because there were beds available."
The festival started on Saturday evening with a reception party at Lobstah's for the vendors and pre-registered attendees. The next morning, there was a New York style fashion show modeled by Brides Against Breast Cancer in the big tent in the Chamber parking lot.
Following that, attendees piled into buses or vans and headed out to the nine vendor sites covering all three cities.
Some stayed to visit the vendors in the parking lot under more tents. Pier 22, the new restaurant on the Bradenton Pier, treated the crowd to tasty samples of itscuisine and The Rental Depot had a liquid refreshment dispenser. Haley's Motel owner Tom Buehler and events coordinator Carol Goodfellow were on hand to talk about their new reception center, which seats 60. It was built after fire destroyed the previous building.
Vendors were on the north deck of the BeachHouse restaurant in Bradenton Beach, under a tent on the beach across from the Tortuga Inn, under the chickee hit at the Gulf Drive Café and Tiki and around the pool behind the Harrington House. The air was cool and dry enough that getting out of the sun was all one had to do to cool down.
Island DJ Chuck Caudill, who books weddings along with his wife, Dara, under the name Island Photography and DJ, said the wedding festival is a worthy event for him.
"I get lots of leads and from that a lot of bookings," he said, "It has been worth my while to be here all day."
At the Tortuga tent, Joe Grund and Allison Reach, of Bradenton, were looking at the various vendors. They are getting married at the Sandbar restaurant next May.
"We fell in love with the Island because of the ambience," she said. "Whenever we think of the beach, we think of Anna Maria Island."
Holly Giese, of Sarasota, was also looking around. She's getting married Nov. 9 in St. Petersburg, but might hold her rehearsal dinner or honeymoon on Anna Maria Island.
This was the fifth festival for Linda Shepard, of A Victorian Bride, and she said it's a worthwhile event for her.
"It's a great way for brides to visit each vendor and make a concise decision," she said.
"Everything's so beautiful here," said Kellee Brockman at the Village Café in Anna Maria, who is getting married Aug. 31, 2013. She's also the granddaughter of Mary Ann Brockman. She's marrying Brent Allen at Lakewood Ranch, but might make the Island part of her wedding.
At Body and Day Spa in Anna Maria, Kristen Slicker was talking about the steady line of attendees who came through. She said she appreciated the smaller crowds this year.
"It's easier to talk with the customers this year because you have more time," she said. "Last year when a trolley or limousine pulled up and dropped off people, you had to keep the conversation brief because you might have a long line of potential customers behind the one you're talking to, waiting for their turns.