Nevada County to public: ‘We’re open for weddings’ |

Nevada County to public: ‘We’re open for weddings’

Greg Whatley, of Mountain Events Productions in Nevada City, talks via Skype to groom Britt Miller.of Roseville, who will marry Natalia Spinella April 25. at Empire Mine State Park in Grass Valley.Whatley and other Nevada County wedding professionals are coping with the effect of the county's new outside events ordinance by expanding their marketing beyond prior boundaries to try to get more bookings.
Submitted photo |

With little help in what has become a public relations nightmare for local wedding vendors, NCWeds, a local trade association, has called a board meeting for this morning at the home of president Donna Hoekstra to brainstorm some type of strategy. The group held a general meeting last week at North Star House, with many offering the same stories as reported in Greg Whatley’s survey.

Here is a sampling:

— Daniel Zuckerman, director of Z Cabernet Strings: Western Nevada County was building tremendous buzz as the place for destination weddings until the ordinance passed. I recently performed at the wedding of an event planner from Lincoln, who told me she’s stopped presenting Nevada County to her clients, because “It’s just too confusing to do business there.”

— Melissa Lockhart of Christopher’s Catering in Grass Valley: Whoever spearheaded this whole thing is an idiot. It was based on overreaction, with no thought of the damage. They need to realize the impact this has on our future, and our kids’ futures.

— Jan Roth, The Roth Estate, Nevada City: Six couples who were dreaming of holding their weddings in charming, historical Nevada County told me recently and honestly, they saw the press on two Sacramento TV channels last regarding our outdoor events ordinance and decided, “It is not worth the risk on the most important day or our lives to reserve a venue up here!”

— Lin Donald, Indian Hill Ranch and Gardens: My flower sales are down 60 percent from last year. I am very concerned.

— Christopher Armstrong, of Christopher Armstrong Photography: My bookings in Nevada County are way down, in fact I think I have only one. Due to the ordinance, I invested all my excess revenue in marketing outside of Nevada County. My overall weddings are up 68 percent but I am traveling much further in order to earn money.

— Dyane Albrecht, event operator: Our bookings are down 50 percent over last year. In 2013, we had 10 events, in 2014, six, and only three this year.

— Rev. Karen Stone, officiant: I have about half of the inquiries and bookings that I have had in previous years.

— Randy Jackson, of Randy Jackson Photography: At this time last year, I had 17 weddings on the books,. This year, I only have 11, and I have done more advertising this year than last. Because the poor bookings this year, I started another photography business in the Bay Area.

— Skye Woods, Sierra Photo Booth: I have picked up business in the Sacramento area, but as far as Nevada County is concerned, there are definitely less bookings.

— Ingrid Peterson, of Grass Valley Florist: My inquiries and bookings are down by a good 25 percent from last year and from the year before. At this time last year, I had at least 20 weddings booked through October, and right now I have about 12.

— Donna Hoekstra, owner and wedding planner, and president of I’m redoing my website and adding tags for Lake Tahoe, Auburn, Yuba City, surrounding areas. This is something I’ve never had to do — I’ve always had enough local work.

It has only been since Dec. 1 that the new Nevada County outside events ordinance went into effect, setting up permit restrictions for just a few private property owners who were using their homes unofficially as commercial wedding venues.

But the public relations damage, mostly from Sacramento TV and social media pickup of newspaper stories last year during the Nevada County Board of Supervisors’ public debate about the ordinance, has already been done, say Nevada County wedding planners, photographers, DJs, officiants, florists, musicians, caterers and other vendors.

“We had been growing as a major weddings destination area,” said Greg Whatley, of Mountain Events Productions, a Nevada City video, DJ and photography service specializing in weddings. “Then by the time March came around, the phone had stopped ringing.

“I was starting to see some bad press, hear some bad rumors,” he said. “Then a friend (from outside the area) said, ‘Dude, so I hear they banned outside weddings altogether?’”

Nothing could be further from the truth. The new law, spurred by neighbors’ complaints over several out-of-control or noisy unregulated private wedding venues, does not affect any family weddings in the backyard or outdoor weddings at approved commercial event venues, such as Empire Mine State Park or Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley.

Also unaffected are gatherings for nonprofits or political groups, as well as indoor venues, such as the Miners Foundry Cultural Center in Nevada City.

Only a few problem outdoor wedding venues that were operating under the radar at private homes are affected. Even private property commercial outdoor weddings may continue — but they are limited to four temporary permits per year.

“I’m like a lot of people — I just read the headlines,” said Antonio Ayestaran of Antonio Ayestaran Custom Catering in Grass Valley. “What I got from that headline (that the ordinance was approved) was that outdoor weddings were banned.

“The reason people come up here for weddings is it’s not as hot as the (Sacramento) Valley, the beauty of the outdoors, the historical significance,” he said. “That was all taken away with just one sentence.”

Ayestaran said his catering business had been growing every year since he started in 2008 — until this year.

“Before, I was getting about two inquiries per week,” he said. “This year, I’m only getting one inquiry about every other week.”

Although Ayestaran, Whatley and numerous other local wedding vendors are anecdotally reporting a drop in bookings of between 20 and 30 percent this year over last year, actual numbers are not yet available.

“The ordinance didn’t go into effect until Dec. 1,” said Nevada County Supervisor Nate Beason. “Consequently, I’m not sure that there would be any meaningful data at this point, four months after implementation.

“I can tell you that the informal feedback I’ve received from constituents and vendors has been very positive,” Beason said. “I suggest that you give it at least a year before you try to determine any trends.”

Beason said the anecdotal data was “not much upon which to base conclusions.”

Nevada County Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Pettitt said there have been no applications so far this year for temporary use permits, which were provided for in the new ordinance.

The temporary use permits, which could be obtained by unofficial private wedding venues, are limited to four per year and cover a weekend’s worth of festivities.

The Sheriff’s Office is in charge of enforcing permit regulations, including answering complaints of noise, littering or unruly behaviors.

Perhaps the only hard-core data currently available at the moment is from the Nevada County Clerk-Recorder’s office. The clerk’s office reports that marriage license applications have dipped during the prime December-to-April wedding booking season from 102 between Dec. 1, 2013 and April 1, 2014, to 90 between Dec. 1, 2014 and April 1, 2015.

“This is when my jaw dropped,” Whatley said. “People aren’t even pulling out marriage license applications here — that means they aren’t even looking.”

A check at clerk’s offices in neighboring counties did not show a similar dip, Whatley said.

“El Dorado County had no appreciable difference, and Placer is up 5 percent,” he said.

Even without a lot of data, wedding professionals and business leaders are wondering how to turn around the mistaken perception that Nevada County is banning outdoor weddings. Some reported reaching out to other areas; at least four vendors have closed up shop altogether, according to Whatley.

“Sadly we are hearing that the (Nevada) county is looking to prevent weddings,” said Richard Markle, of Sacramento-based Association for Wedding Professionals International. “Whether that is true or not, the brides will seek other locations if they hear about it (sadly they likely will hear!!).”

Markle said the county needs to realize the potential economic gains from weddings.

“Every wedding has at least six out-of-town guests,” Markle said. “A destination wedding averages 40 out-of-town guests.

“On average, a guest will spend approximately $1,500 for rooms, food, entertainment, gifts, etc.,” he said. “Just a local wedding equates to $9,000 in taxable revenue.

“A destination wedding hits the $60,000 mark,” Markle said. “This is besides the actual revenue a wedding can generate.”

Keith Davies, of the Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, said he and his staff are doing “everything we can with the resources we have” to promote Nevada County as a wedding destination.

That includes answering questions from brides and grooms, giving referrals to venues and sending out wedding packets.

“We don’t have the resources to do an advertising campaign,” he said. The Chamber is, however, updating the weddings section on its website, he said.

Similarly, staff for Nevada County Economic Resources Council said they were not doing specific marketing on Nevada County as a wedding destination. Lani Lott, a staff member, said the ERC does general tourism marketing, highlighting the county’s restaurants or historic attractions.

Anyone with questions about weddings is referred to, the county’s tourism website, which has a tab with listings of wedding venues, Lott said.

Paul Sieving, president of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, said he is planning to update his economic impact report from a national weddings data company as soon as this year’s numbers are available.

Sieving fought against the ordinance last year, presenting the board with a detailed report on the economic ripple effect of weddings, but the supervisors did not give it high credibility.

Sieving declined immediate comment until he gets the new figures.

“When I get the new numbers, I’ll post them and my opinions in my column,” he said.

To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email or call 530-477-4239.

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