The contrast at Sunday’s bridal show in downtown Akron’s John S. Knight Center couldn’t have been more stark.
Outside, the dirty snow and gray skies typical to a mid-January afternoon.
Inside, a world of color, excitement and planning for local brides-to-be and their — mostly female — relatives.
The show is put together every year by Today’s Bride, an Akron company started in 1989 to help Northeast Ohio couples navigate the road from engagement to wedding. Jim and Denise Frericks saw a need.
"What they were doing in California and New York was not what they were doing in Ohio," said Jim Frericks, owner of Today’s Bride. So he and his wife started a magazine to publicize local interests and trends. The shows followed.
Sunday’s Akron version included about 150 vendors — florists, ministers, venues, photographers, DJs, hotels and a plethora of businesses serving the area’s $80 million wedding industry.
In addition to businesses pitching their wares to prospective brides and their families, the bridal show included a lot of interactive events: a fashion show, selfie station, hair-cutting demonstrations and a station to try on dresses.
The fashion show appealed to Alicia Waine of Stow. Waine, who became engaged at Christmas, said the show gave her a good start for her upcoming nuptials. She said she "may have found a caterer."
Stephanie Thrams of Hudson said the runway show was her favorite part of the event.
Thrams, who got engaged two weeks ago, said the show gave her ideas for a process that’s just begun. She booked several appointments.
Jennifer Judy Fyffe, vice president at Today’s Bride and coordinator of the bridal show, said trends are constantly shifting in the industry. For the last five years, she said, "personalization and customization" have driven the changes, fueled by couples who desire a unique event.
Those custom tweaks lead to such things as an Ohio State Buckeyes wedding cake, one of several elaborate pastry creations on display. They also have led to an increased popularity of oversized flowers on bouquets, limo buses, Lucite-encased invitations and the selection of more barns and "industrial" sites as reception halls.
And they’ve led to new favorites at the reception bar.
Matt Maroon, owner of Craft Cocktails To Go, runs a business that features a mobile bar that looks a bit like a food truck. The "Happy Camper" provides flexibility for outdoor venues.
Maroon said Moscow Mules and Blackberry Mojitos are currently the most popular mixed drinks at receptions.
A more high-tech trend is drones. Matt Reisinger, owner of Elite Entertainment in Green, said that aerial coverage of weddings is big and getting bigger.
"It creates a really epic shot," Reisinger said. "The groom likes the tech, the bride likes the finished result."
Fyffe said same-sex marriages remain a small, but growing part of the market, with businesses taking notice.
"More businesses are appealing to those couples," Fyffe said.
But the bulk of the business remains the traditional female-male couple, although the female half of that union was far more evident Sunday at the Knight Center.
Olivia Baxter of Alliance, who got engaged in August at Disney World, said she didn’t even bother to invite her fiancé, whom she’s dated since high school.
"I don’t think my fiancé would enjoy this," she said. "I knew better."
Baxter tried on a dress at the show and liked it — a lot. She, her mom and her future mom-in-law "got emotional," which surprised Baxter a bit. Her wedding’s not until September 2020, but the show was a good way to get a jump on months of preparation.
"It’s never too early to start planning," Baxter said.
For Fyffe, who’s been organizing shows for 25 years, Sunday’s event in Akron was a prelude to an even bigger event. On Jan. 26-27, she’ll be coordinating Today’s Bride’s show at the I-X Center in Cleveland, which Frericks says is the nation’s third-largest.
Fyffe says she still loves what she does because it helps couples on the road to one of the biggest events of their lives and creates lasting relationships.
"You become best friends with the companies you hire," she said.
Alan Ashworth can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @newsalanbeaconjournal