Columbia resident Caroline Pyon thought little of the flash flood alerts on her phone last week, but as she continued to watch the news, she became worried. Pictures showed Ellicott City’s historic Main Street, where her wedding was scheduled to take place Saturday, submerged.
“I was just hoping that even if they flooded, they would be able to clean up and have everything ready by our wedding date,” said Pyon, 22.
But Main Street Ballroom would be in no shape for her nuptials. A wedding at the venue was evacuated that afternoon during Ellicott City’s second devastating flood in two years. The historic district remains closed to visitors.
Though the damage to the venue was less severe than anticipated, owner Kate Ansari said she expects it to take six weeks to reopen — leaving 10 couples temporarily without a place to wed. Since then, event-industry professionals have volunteered their services to help relocate the weddings, and some couples have postponed their nuptials in hopes that Main Street Ballroom recovers in time to host their special day.
Ansari, who opened Main Street Ballroom in early 2017 — just months after the destructive flood in July 2016 — said she has offered full refunds to couples with weddings booked through July, totaling about $60,000 in reimbursements.
“We wanted to be safe because brides need time to relocate. … We didn’t want to just leave them hanging and cancel,” she said. “It didn’t feel right to keep their money.”
After all, weddings are an investment. Couples often book years in advance. The typical weekend bookings at Main Street Ballroom can run from around $5,000 to $7,000, according to Ansari, and a study conducted by wedding website The Knot determined brides and grooms spent more than $33,000 on average in 2017.
Kati Brown, manager of global internal events at Under Armour, contacted Ansari the day after the flood in hopes of helping Main Street Ballroom clients, including Pyon, find new venues and vendors. At first, she wanted “to put boots and gloves on and help” with cleanup.
But she decided her expertise in event planning might be of more use.
She and her team at Under Armour took advantage of a company policy that allows time to give back, getting in touch with at least eight couples. She helped them negotiate with vendors, some of which were willing to waive typical contract clauses and match Main Street Ballroom rates.
In addition to booking a tent for a June 16 wedding, Brown has helped Pyon and her soon-to-be husband Brandon Weber, 24, book their wedding at The Winslow, an industrial-style venue in South Baltimore. (The Winslow did not immediately respond to a phone call and emails from The Baltimore Sun.)
Pyon said the new venue is perfect and that the way community members like Brown volunteered to assist her felt like “an answered prayer.”
“After I talked to Kati, I just knew that we would be OK. She was just so helpful, and I was just amazed that someone so talented like her who has a job already was willing to volunteer her time to help us,” Pyon said.
Venues like The Grand in downtown Baltimore and La Banque de Fleuve in Havre de Grace also offered assistance to Main Street Ballroom clients via Facebook.
Kim Barth, owner of La Banque de Fleuve, has experience with disasters derailing wedding plans. She assisted several couples when Cecil County wedding venue The Winery at Elk Manor closed abruptly in 2016 following the owner's guilty plea to federal tax fraud.
“It’s so heartbreaking to have a bride come to you and say ‘My wedding’s on Friday. My venue is closed,’” she said. “Our approach is if we can’t help them, I will find someone who can.”
Andrew Labetti, general manager of The Grand, offered to match the prices couples paid for Main Street Ballroom.
“Our focus for them is just taking the burden of of having to change venues and make it as simple and seamless as possible,” he said.
Grace Palumbo and Brian Parrish, both 21, booked her new venue with ease when it became clear their June 17 wedding wouldn’t be happening at Main Street Ballroom.
“From the get-go, as soon as we found out we’d have to find another venue, everyone was so helpful,” including Ansari, Palumbo said. Ansari suggested other venues like The Assembly Room, which the couple booked after visiting last week. Her catering service and florist were also hands-on and willing to move.
“I never really felt stressed,” she said.
But some couples are sticking with Main Street Ballroom, even if it means moving their wedding dates.
Elkridge resident Akia White postponed her Aug. 12 wedding to Andrew Jackson, 38, until August of next year. The couple was shaken up when they heard that Jackson’s friend Sgt. Eddison “Eddie” Hermond, a 39-year-old Air Force veteran and National Guardsman, died during the flood. She also worried about whether renovations would be complete and whether the area would be safe for out-of-town family members by the time of her wedding.
But she didn’t want to cancel. She was in love with the venue’s “rustic, old-timey look,” the lighting and the exposed stone walls.
“Everything about it is what I want it, and I don't feel like making a drastic change,” said White, who relocated from Michigan last year. She said she was unaware of Ellicott City’s previous flooding before she booked.
“There's a risk of another flood happening, obviously, but I'm not going into it with that kind of energy,” she said.
As a precautionary measure, White will be purchasing wedding insurance, which helps recoup any lost costs or deposits, she said.
According to Ansari, Main Street Ballroom may be open sooner than anticipated. After a cleanup last weekend, Ansari said the venue, which has nearly 150 weddings booked through 2019, just needs additional coats of paint.
It might be able to host some of the summer weddings, so long as surrounding areas are cleaned up, with safe access to the venue and nearby parking for guests. She will be meeting with county officials to discuss options, she said.
Ansari has raised nearly $1,800 of her $5,000 goal on a GoFundMe campaign as of Wednesday evening to help with costs, and said that the venue will also host a fundraiser, with a portion of proceeds going to the Ellicott City Partnership. She hopes to also install a memorial bench for Hermond on Main Street.
“We’re just excited we can come back so quickly,” she said, and that people in the city are helping each other get back on track. “That’s the silver lining.”
As for the soon-to-be bride Pyon, the experience has been a lesson on flexibility.
“You can do your best to plan, but sometimes it unravels and you just have to go along with it,” she said. “It's really awesome that at the end of the day, we still get to get married, and that's really important.”