As little girls growing up in Medical Lake, Nina Cruger and Jessica Johnson played make-believe about their far-off wedding day.
Now 22 and 20 respectively, the childhood friends are planning for the big day, for real. Both got engaged over the holidays, and pland to marry in 2010.
On Saturday, the pair stood at the entrance to the 31st Annual Bridal Festival at the Spokane Convention Center, surrounded by dozens of vendors hawking every bride’s dream.
Cruger and Johnson’s bridegrooms, not surprisingly, were duck-hunting somewhere far from the romantic music, floral arrangements and chocolate fountains on display.
“I still feel like we are playing house,” Cruger said. “I’m so overwhelmed, and I just walked in the door.”
More than 800 brides were expected to converge on the festival, said to be the Inland Northwest’s largest for wedding planning.
“Brides can basically plan their entire wedding under one roof,” said Tammy Schneider, who has organized the festival and bridal fashion show at the event for the past 21 years.
Despite an economy on the mend, attendance at the first day of the two-day festival was above normal, she said.
“We’ve had unbelievable attendance so far,” Schneider said. About 185 vendors – from catering companies, DJs, venues, salons, ice sculptors and florists, and photographers, to name a few – set up shop for the weekend.
Most vendors depend on the once-a-year affair to set the course for the entire wedding season.
“This event will make or break you,” said Pat Bradley, the owner of T & R Party Rentals.
For Bradley, this year’s bridal fair comes after a devastating fire last summer that destroyed most of Bradley’s equipment, including a linen collection said to be one of the largest in the Inland Northwest.
“We have risen from the ashes,” said Melanie Hess, one of Bradley’s employees. Bradley said from the fire came the opportunity to expand her business, and open a new showroom at 2001 N. Division St.
While wedding planning seems to be somewhat recession-proof, that doesn’t mean brides haven’t scaled back. Bradley said she has noticed a lot more backyard weddings, and smaller affairs.
“Everybody is looking for a good deal,” said Linda Shultz of Charley’s Catering. Shultz said last summer Charley’s catered only about two weddings a week, down from six weddings a week the year before.
“We’ve kept our prices about the same,” Shultz said. “We’re going to ride it out and hope for the best. From the looks of it, things are on the way back up.”