Main Street Sense, Wall Street Sensibilities

For the financial details of the Main Street Wedding, Professor Winslow referred me to Mt. Graham's Annette Norris, professor of business and marketing, who has collaborated on research into the MSW phenomenon.

"So, contemporary marriages are basically a huge bundle of costs, like flowers, facility rental, dress, gemstone rings, catering, etc., with a couple small bits of revenue: cash and registry gifts.  This concept, however,  is about getting a bundle of revenue--like the in-kind donations of entertainment, potluck food, free facility, borrowed clothes, and the liquid asset donations of cash and cash equivalents--with a few small bits of expense: wedding bands, flour and sugar, maybe some dress fabric.  Cut expenses to the bone and pump up revenue."

"There are expenses then?" I ask.

"Oh, yes, most of the time.  There are some things, like the wedding band, the cake, and the dress that will have to be purchased, or the ingredients will have to be purchased, at least.  Some things are more discretionary, like the bridesmaids' dresses.  The wedding tradition doesn't insist they have matching dresses and so they can simply wear their high school prom dress or something like that.  You know, some brides consider it tacky to have all their bridesmaids attired in the same poorly-sewn satin dresses."

"As far as the ring goes, couples are opting for a single gold or silver band for the groom and the bride, to be paid out of their joint wedding budget."

"What if they don't have any money to begin with?" I asked.

"For funding, we've seen that many have enough cash saved up to cover the initial expenses.  Others borrow from friends or parents.  More and more, though, we've seen them buy everything a week or two before the wedding, putting it on credit cards.  They then pay down the entire bill during the grace period.  It's a free loan, basically."

"Where do they get the money to pay it off?"

"We're getting to that in a minute.  Where was I?  Rings.  Giving up the gemstone is asking too much for some brides, so they have the jeweler leave space for mounts all around the ring with the plan of adding a small diamond at their fifth, tenth, fifteenth, etc. wedding anniversaries.  Diamonds range from a few hundred to a few thousand--that's an expense you want to postpone for as long as possible.  And it's a subtle incentive for the couple to stay together.  It's like saying, 'We may not have had a lot of money when we first got married but look how long we've been together.'"

"A plain band is the lowest you can go while abiding by tradition.  Some grooms have asked about tungsten or steel and while it's not my place to intervene in these matters, I have privately discouraged it."

"The cake can be made at a very reasonable expense if it is made by the family of the bride or groom from ingredients purchased by the couple at a fine cooking store.  Flour, water, baking soda, salt, sugar.  There's not much to it."

"For the photography, we've found that nearly every bride and groom has an amateur photographer in his or her family, some of whom are so close to being professional that the difference is neglible.  Most of these photography enthusiasts are willing to offer their services gratis.  All that leaves is the printing costs, which aren't too expensive if you do some shopping around."

"For flowers, we find couples using wildflowers, flowers they've grown in their gardens, houseplants, and artificial pieces.  Most guests are too distracted by the abundant food and the good conversation to pay much attention to the flowers."

The Big Event

 "Which brings me to the event itself.  The ceremony comes first.  Most couples are being wed by their clergyman, in a chapel.  Sometimes they have the ceremony in the room where the celebration is held immediately afterward, but that's not as common.  After the ceremony, which is typically free of charge, the bride and groom quickly make their way to the building or area where the main celebration is to be held.

"The main celebration is a combination of the traditional wedding dinner and reception.  There is plenty of food, which is supplied by the guests themselves in potluck fashion.  There is entertainment, provided by friends and family of the bride and groom.  Invariably, there is dancing, whether that be line dancing, ballroom dancing, swing, etc.  Sometimes, there's singing and karaoke.

"The big question mark here is the facility.  Renting a facility can be expensive, especially at a fancy hotel or a golf course.  Most couples are able to find a Church gym or a large field, if the weather is favorable, or a City Hall, that can be had for little or no cost."

"And now we come to revenue.  As with many commercial propositions, there are many sources of expense but few sources of revenue and, inasmuch as revenue is the lifeblood of this event, it makes sense for couples to focus on it."

"The source of revenue is the guest and his or her pocketbook.  Main Street couples don't bother with gifts and gift registries.  They don't want rolling pins and knife sharpeners, they want cash and liquid assets.  A pewter ewer is nice to have around, but landlords usually don't accept it for rent payments."

"The key here is to get as many guests--well-heeled and poor alike--into your event as possible.  Each one knows to bring, or is kindly asked to bring, five to 25 dollars to contribute to the new bride and groom.  Should they forget, or if they were never told in the first place, they will discreetly be informed by someone in the wedding party or by a sign hanging on the donation receptacle.  Most people won't begrudge the couple ten dollars or so, which they probably have in their wallets or in their car."

"The bride and groom invite people to their event through free or inexpensive media, like 8.5 X 11 flyers, Facebook, email, or over the telephone.  This way, they avoid the cost of announcements and can invite many more people."

"Should they accidentally forget to call or contact friend or acquaintance, it's not a catastrophe, because that person will doubtless hear about it from a neighbor or friend.  In fact, we estimate that 78% of guests at a Main Street Wedding heard about it through a second-hand source and not from the couple or the couple's family."

"The guests come for a variety of reasons.  Some come to greet and congratulate the bride and groom.  Some have connections to the bride's or groom's family.  Some are there to be part of a community event.  Some are there to meet another single of the opposite sex, with the hope that the romantic setting will afford an opportunity to plant the seed of marriage for the two of them.  No one who is willing to be civil is turned away from these events.  This is a community celebration, not a private party.  They can get huge."

"Three and half years ago there was a Main Street Wedding in Apache Bluffs that drew 1800 guests.  They spread the word through MySpace and email.  People came from up to 80 miles away.  The bride and groom grossed $10,000.  After expenses they walked away with $7200.  The key here is packing the place."


Go to Part 6: The Future