Local Wedding Vendors Launch New Endeavors in the Pandemic
Despite gathering restrictions, rescheduled events and an uncertain future, the wedding industry has seen new vendors arrive over the last year. Three new business owners share their stories.
This story first appeared in the fall/winter 2021 issue of Columbus Weddings, published in June 2021.
It was three months into the coronavirus pandemic, and things were not looking good for the wedding of Steven and Chloe Starkey.
The Marion couple had resolved to keep their date of July 18, but in May, they received word that their chosen venue—the North Bank Pavilion—would not be open in time. They got their money back, but they were suddenly without a venue. “We called and toured several places,” says Chloe, who, with her husband-to-be, checked out spots in the Short North and German Village
Nothing felt quite right.
Then Steven got in touch with a friend who had purchased a 180-acre property that had, in a former life, been home to a summer camp in the village of Marengo, about 35 miles northeast of Downtown Columbus.
“We just liked that it was outdoors, that it was open, that there were a lot of different areas on the property that we could host people at to make it feel like it was this little destination wedding,” says Chloe, who spruced up the space ahead of her nuptials. “We came out here and just started doing a lot of yard work,” she adds.
After serving as “guinea pigs” for repurposing the former Camp Marengo as a wedding venue, the Starkeys saw an opportunity to share the spot with other couples-to-be. Within a few months, Steven and Chloe had worked out a deal with their friend to become co-owners of what is now called The Brook, a site that the couple touts not just for its scenic splendor but for its ample on-site lodging.
“We had all of our close friends and family stay on-site, and we never had to leave all weekend,” Steven says of their wedding. “There’s a lot of really cool, pretty event venues in [Central Ohio], but the major issue—and we found this to be a problem when we were looking for our own venue—[is] there’s nowhere to stay.”
That’s not a problem, though, at The Brook, which can easily put up out-of-town guests in cabin-, hotel- and hostel-style options. Accommodations include the Buckeye Bungalow, Maple Manor and Sycamore Shack (also known as the “Love Shack”).
The Starkeys—who hosted their first wedding at The Brook on Labor Day and have more than a dozen already confirmed for 2021—are among a number of Central Ohio entrepreneurs who have launched wedding-related businesses during the pandemic.
It may be an unlikely time to start a new venture, but the Starkeys are going all in, investing in new bathrooms, turning a former campers’ dining hall into a gathering hall and creating a bridal suite and a groom’s lounge.
“We wanted people to come out here and have the ability to relax and enjoy themselves and let loose,” says Steven, who defines The Brook’s aesthetic as “adventurous-modern.”
Personal experience also informed the decision of Whitehall resident Kenyutta Echols to form her own event planning and styling business, It’s So Beautiful, last year.
“I planned my own wedding from A to Z, down to baking the cupcakes and doing the table decorations,” says Echols, who married her husband, Sherrick, in July. “The bridesmaids’ clothes, shoes, everything.”
In that time, Echols found that she had a knack for the process but also that she wished she had been able to hire someone to help—someone like, well, herself. “I wish I could have had somebody do this for me, if I would have known what a wedding planner really does,” she says.
Having identified a need from her own wedding-planning journey, a new business owner was born.
Echols, who became certified in event planning, launched It’s So Beautiful in August.
Despite having a strong enough sense of her own tastes to plan her wedding as well as other family events, potential brides and grooms shouldn’t worry that Echols will impose her style on them.
“I really listen and pay attention to what they want,” says Echols, who also plans birthdays, baby and bridal showers and other events.
Although Echols says that business so far has been slow during the pandemic, she remains undeterred.
“I’m going to stay positive and keep going,” she says.
Bullish on the wedding industry going forward is the quartet of Ohio State University graduates who formed an event-planning business, roop, last December, launching its website in March.
“A lot of people were postponing their weddings or other big events, so we knew that there would be a big market for this business, especially when people are trying to cram everything in to the first available time they can,” says Sanjana Naidu, who founded roop with Akil Gore, Arsh Bajwa and Siddartha Revur.
The four, who met at Ohio State, took pride in planning elaborate events at schools.
“I have always been a very extracurricular-inclined person,” Naidu says. “That was one of the big things that drew me to Ohio State—just seeing the vast amount of organizations that existed and the level of execution that OSU did at these events.”
After graduating in 2018, some among the four scattered, but all found themselves in Central Ohio again during the pandemic. It was then that they decided to form roop, which takes its name from a Hindi word. “It’s essentially saying you are looking upon something that holds so much beauty,” Naidu says. “We decided, right now, there’s nothing stopping us. If anything, we have more of an opportunity.”
The company offers end-to-end planning. “We want to make sure that from preliminary planning stages to the day and moment of execution, we are there with you,” says Naidu, who points to small, easy-to-forget details that the right event planner will not overlook. “There’s a lot of things that people don’t really think of,” she adds. Naidu also points to the importance of following pandemic-era guidelines while achieving a client’s vision.
At the same time, roop’s services are offered à la carte, with clients able to pick and choose what they need for their wedding.
Three weddings have been booked since the company launched, but its co-founder is not getting cynical.
“It’s such a romantic business,” Naidu says. “Seeing the bride and groom’s look on their faces, and seeing the families’ look on their faces when you have two families becoming one—I just think it’s something that’s so beautiful.”