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.
“I think it’s going to be a major, major boost for the wedding industry this year,” he said. “I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t take off like a banshee.”
Giroux said he’s usually completely booked during the wedding season, so the new law likely won’t add anymore gigs for him. He has already booked two same-sex weddings, and anticipates his schedule filling up sooner.
“I think right after the holidays, my phone’s going to go nuts,” he said.
Aurilla Holt, who owns Berry & Berry Floral in Hallowell, Gardiner and Windsor, said she expects to serve more weddings next year but didn’t have a specific goal. Usually she averages around 100 weddings a year, mostly in June through October, she said.
“Everybody pertaining to the wedding industry is going to see an increase. Obviously there are more people that can be married,” Holt said.
Jennifer Dumond, who owns Kennebec Chocolates, Cakes by Jennifer and a photography business in Augusta, said she expects an increase in wedding cake orders, even though she’s already baking as much as she can. She said won’t do any specific marketing to same-sex couples but works with other vendors like the Senator who are making that effort.
Some business owners in different parts of the industry, from musicians and photographers to florists and bakers, have tried putting the word out that they’re friendly to same-sex couples in hopes of still receiving recommendations from more prominent vendors.
Both Cowger and O’Brien said they’ve received calls from other businesses saying that they’re happy to serve all couples — in case same-sex clients ask for recommendations.
“I think most people who are in business are going to be friendly to it because it’s business,” O’Brien said. “That’s positive that it will get these other people in the business talking about it because they want to be included in it, obviously.”
Giroux said he’ll be updating his website so same-sex couple know he’s available for their weddings.
“You want to make sure that you are same-sex marriage friendly,” he said. “You need to put it out there to let people know that you’re not segregating anything particular, that you treat every one of the weddings as special.”
Paul Koenig — 621-5663