Allie Neyra was ready to send out her "save the date" cards announcing her Sept. 1 wedding in Charlotte when she learned of a big conflict - the Democratic National Convention.
In this month of wedding shows, engagements and intense wedding planning, Charlotte area brides and grooms are discovering that popular dates over the Labor Day weekend are largely off limits this year. Local wedding planners are urging couples to work around that weekend, since as many as 35,000 visitors are expected in the region for official and unofficial events surrounding the convention happening Sept. 4-6.
Thirteen prime venues - including places popular for local weddings - already have been snapped up for official DNC receptions. And convention planners have first right of refusal on most venues in the region.
Since Neyra and her fiancé, Greg Miller, both 33, plan to marry at their northwest Charlotte home, booking a wedding venue wasn't the problem. Their challenge is getting hotel rooms for out-of-town guests, party caterers for the outdoor ceremony and other amenities. Businesses are holding out hoping they'll be busy with convention-related events.
Neyra figures even sightseeing with her guests will be difficult, since intense security is expected on uptown streets.
"The whole plan was to bring everyone in on Friday, take them downtown," said Neyra, who is inviting friends and family from the Midwest and Mexico City.
"I didn't really realize how many people were coming and the impact it would have on our city....I don't want people to have problems booking flights, having trouble getting out of town, getting a car.
"We're back pretty much at the drawing table with a date."
Local wedding and hospitality experts say Labor Day weekend typically kicks off a busy wedding season stretching into October, thanks to Charlotte's typically picture-perfect weather. The long weekend is so popular that it's challenging to book venues even in typical years.
Typically busy weekend
Local wedding-industry businesses say they're not worried about losing money on the weekend this year. Businesses say they're still getting the wedding work - just earlier or later in the season.
"If you're considering a September wedding, you need to have it after the 15th," says Nancy Mazzucco with I Do Wedding Consulting, who broke the DNC-conflict news to Neyra and Miller.
At least one local bride-to-be was particularly disappointed: Since she and her fiancé met on a Labor Day weekend, she wanted to make that weekend her wedding anniversary date, too. "She ended up moving it the weekend before," said Shawon McClure-Fields, owner of SDS Events.
Some couples set on marrying that weekend still may have a chance. Although Mecklenburg County's parks also are committed to the DNC as possible event sites, the county expects to learn sometime in March which venues will be in play and which ones can be released, county spokesman Leo Caplanides said. Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation usually hosts between 15 and 20 weddings on Labor Day weekend, with sites such as Freedom Park near uptown and Jetton Park in the Lake Norman area being especially popular.
Even if spots open up at parks or elsewhere, some say they'll still steer clear.
"Most people in our industry are doing their version of a 'black out' that weekend," said caterer Holly McLelland, owner of Delectables by Holly, who doesn't plan to schedule any events.
Neither will cake maker Gail Buff, owner and pastry chef of Cheesecake Etc. She plans to say no to requests uptown at DNC time: "Because of the traffic that's going to be downtown, because of the security... I would just as soon stay away from the area."
Photographer Cassandra Mooney of BlueSky Studios says one client couple already moved their wedding from Charlotte to Boone. That's just fine with Mooney, who plans to stay over for a long, DNC-free weekend out of town.
It all has Neyra thinking about another location for her wedding, even though she has her heart set on marrying in Charlotte, where she's lived for 13 years and where she and Miller met and fell in love.
"We definitely want to stay in Charlotte," Neyra said. "We don't want to go elsewhere. We'll try."
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