December 17, 2012

Local businesses look for same-sex wedding boost

By Paul Koenig
Staff Writer

The traditional wedding season is still half a year away, but local businesses have already seen a boost in inquiries from same-sex couples looking to tie the knot next year.

"The phones are ringing," said Roger Bintliff, general manager of the Senator Spa and Inn in Augusta.

The hotel and event venue has hired an advertising agency to run a Facebook ad campaign to let same-sex couples know that the Senator is friendly to any wedding celebration, he said.

"We're optimistic that it can only help our season," he said. "In kind of a tough economic climate, any business is welcome."

Maine voters last month approved a referendum allowing same-sex marriage, and couples can get marriage licenses as soon as Saturday, Dec. 29.

Scott Cowger, who owns Maple Hill Farm Inn with his partner, Vincent Cannan, said they received a dozen calls from same-sex couples right after the election, and they met with four over the first weekend.

So far, one couple has booked a date for next year with more to come, Cowger said.

"What we're seeing is we won't have many gaps in our wedding schedule next year. It will be pretty steady," he said "I think this will be a much more robust wedding season, and that's due in part to weddings being available to everyone."

The Hallowell bed and breakfast is trying to capitalize on a larger market with an increase in advertising, about 20 percent more, Cowger said. This includes advertising in a Portland-based magazine for the gay and transgender community, as well as paid listings in online directories for same-sex wedding services.

Cowger said that thie past year was a slow one for weddings at his inn. He's heard similar comments from other event venue owners.

Scott O'Brien, owner of Augusta Florist and Waterville Florist, said his businesses had more customers who held weddings at homes and dealt with very few venue weddings the past year. Less people wanted to spend money on flowers as well, he said.

"Last year was tough," he said.

O'Brien, who also rents formal wear at his stores, expects more wedding customers next year, but said it's still too early to tell how many more.

"We're excited to bring more people into the pool," he said.

The Senator has a goal of five more weddings next year, said Bintliff. A typical wedding at the venue costs $2,000 to $5,000, so that could be a revenue boost of between $10,000 and $25,000. He said weddings can often bring in even more money than that with room rentals and spa services, although people only renting a banquet hall would pay less.

"I don't think it's very big market. But it is a market, and it's an emerging market," Bintliff said. "We're anxious to see what kind of impact it has."

Cowger said it may be difficult to measure exactly how much the law will increase revenue for Maine businesses. Maple Hill Farm Inn doesn't report specific wedding-related finances, he said. Cowger estimated that weddings bring in about a quarter of the company's revenue.

He also said any increase because of same-sex marriages being allowed could be masked by any rebound in the economy next year.

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law projects that the law will increase wedding-related spending by Maine same-sex couples by almost $16 million during the next three years.

But Cowger thinks it will be even higher. "I think their numbers were very conservative," he said about the report.

Dan Giroux, who provides disc jockey and master of ceremonies services to around 30 to 35 weddings each year, said he expects the number of marriages to increase significantly.

(Continued on page 2)

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