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With the legalization of same-sex marriage in Florida this week, wedding boutiques, photographers, planners and other industry professionals are expecting to see more business from the gay community than ever before.
Bradenton and Sarasota-area gay couples have long hired wedding professionals for commitment ceremonies and purchased dresses and tuxedos for weddings in states where same-sex marriage is legal. But now, more wedding-related business will likely stay local, including venue rental, flowers and decor.
Kim Frazier, owner of full-service Sarasota bridal boutique The Perfect Dress, said her largely lesbian same-sex clientele will be piling on all the extras at their weddings.
"That's the end that it's going to impact more," said Frazier. "Those girls that were going out of town will do it here now."
As of Tuesday morning, same-sex couples will be able to pick up marriage certificates from Manatee and Sarasota county clerks of court for the first time. While some marriages will take place on the spot, wedding industry professionals are expecting newly legal and happy same-sex couples to begin queuing up for the dream weddings heterosexual couples have long enjoyed.
Beth Winkle, organizer of the annual Nuovo Bride Bridal Expo to be held at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in April, said
that with the average couple spending about $25,000 on a wedding, same-sex couples will be purchasing even more goods and services than they did when commitment ceremonies were the only big-day option for Florida gay and lesbian couples.
She also expects that many of the same-sex weddings performed in Florida this year will bring in a lot of out-of-state money. The Bradenton Area Convention and Tourism Bureau estimated in 2012 that Manatee County hosts about 1,500 weddings each year.
"Florida is just a huge destination market for people getting married," she said.
People making their livings in the wedding industry are expecting their business to grow in Florida. Now, local florists, venue owners, caterers and bakers will capture more commerce as couples stay in state to get married legally. Alla Levin, a Parrish baker who owns The Cake Zone, said same-sex couples have made up as much as 10 percent of her business in a given year. She now expects that percentage to grow.
She's also looking forward to the challenging assignments same-sex couples tend to give her for their cakes. Last year, she baked a 250-pound cake replica of the Settlers of Catan board game for a gay couple.
"The same-sex couples are less traditional, so they go outside the box when they want to celebrate their union," she said.
Winkle is looking to capitalize on the pent-up demand at a new, non-denominational wedding venue she is opening in Venice, The Barn at Chapel Creek.
Many wedding service and goods suppliers will rely on a network of same-sex clientele they've built up over time. Winkle said she doesn't expect the roughly 100 vendors attending April's bridal show to do anything different with the change of legal status for same-sex couples because they have been catering to that market segment for some time. She said gay and lesbian couples will go to the professionals who have marketed to that community all along.
"I'll get emails or I'll get calls from people wondering which of our vendors are gay friendly," she said. "I say 'All of them, I imagine.'"
Being gay friendly in a state that hasn't given same-sex couples marriage rights has guaranteed only limited business for some. Bradenton wedding photographer Lisa E. said she hasn't gotten as much business as she would like from the gay community, even though she advertises her services on gay and lesbian websites. Legalization of same-sex marriage, she said, should make a difference when it comes to couples springing for full-service weddings in their home state.
"I've been rooting for them," she said.
Local professionals are not expecting a sudden rush of business with the end of Florida's gay marriage ban. Frazier said most couples plan their weddings about six months in advance, so the market will have time to adjust to the additional volume same-sex couples are expected to create.
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