These days, the US wedding industry brings in nearly $40 billion a year and the 2011 American Wedding Survey estimates that the average cost of a wedding in the US is $26,500. In such a lucrative field, The Uptowner reports that Harlem is standing on its own, attracting couples to host their wedding in its unique cultural venues.
“Harlem is often overlooked as a destination to have a city wedding,” wedding coordinator DiAnne Henderson told the Up Towner. Wedding planning is her part time passion; she’s worked with Alhambra Ballroom in Harlem for 17 years and done more than 200 weddings. Henderson notes that while the black community has plenty of African American designers, there simply aren’t enough wedding expos.
Four years ago she helped launch the Bridal Expo and Fashion Show to highlight local vendors and Harlem brides. The event recently took place at Alhambra Ballroom with 25 vendors and about 100 participants to showcase a wide selection of dresses from traditional white to patchwork halter-style African print dresses.
“Everyone can’t have a $40,000 or $50,000 wedding so we try to work with the person’s pockets,” Henderson said.
In Manhattan weddings generally top the national average cost and carry a heavy $70,730 price tag. But Henderson says her average wedding costs around $12,000.
“I have the chance to speak with people and encourage them,” she says of her work.
Wedding designers like Henderson must have a creative eye to plan the wedding of each bride’s dreams. Harlem businesses make finding the perfect venues easier. There’s Sylvia’s, the well-known Lenox Avenue restaurant that specializes in soul food. It hosts a free space for wedding parties under 45 guests or $500 an hour for bigger parties. Their special event coordinator estimates the restaurant serves about 30 weddings annually.
Alhambra Ballroom specializes in hosting wedding receptions and has been called by some brides one of the most affordable options in the area. There’s also Riverside Church, which has two wedding sanctuary rents from $3200-3500.
Despite the efforts Harlem hasn’t reached its pinnacle of wedding success. Wedding Coordinator Angela Gregory tells The Uptowner that few couples chose to wed at Riverside Church. Photographer Chad Pennington says that most of his work is done in downtown Manhattan. Last year, he only photographed two Harlem weddings.
Harriette Cole, author of “Jumping the Broom: the African-American Wedding Planner,” tells The Uptowner that she still foresees Harlem could be a big player in the wedding market.
“I imagine that Harlem can become even more of a player in the world of weddings, thanks to more restaurants being developed and additional event spaces,” she said.