With at least one bride and groom forced to relocate their wedding and other nervous couples apparently preparing to jump ship, a Hampden-based venue manager is pledging to make good on commitments to dozens of weddings and other gatherings booked at sites in Hampden and Federal Hill.
"I feel so devastated by what happened," said Church & Company founder Alex Fox, a week after one wedding he booked had to be moved, at the last minute, to another location because the couple couldn't reach him or anyone associated with his events business.
"They left us high and dry the day before our wedding," said Jeffrey Spindler, who was supposed to marry Ariel Hughes at a Church & Company venue on Oct. 13.
While calling the last-minute move an "isolated incident," Fox acknowledged that he had been hard to reach in recent days, and attributed the company's troubles to a recent split with his former business partner and a hospital stay.
On Tuesday, another customer started a Facebook support group for people to share their concerns over missed appointments, impending deadlines and their inability to reach Fox or anyone at Church & Company, which has managed events at several locations in the city. About a dozen people had posted on the page as of Wednesday morning, many complaining that they had been unable to reach Fox over the past few days and expressing skepticism that their upcoming weddings or other events would come off as planned.
"I understand that, I feel their panic," Fox said Thursday. He said that events at Branch No. 3, a Church & Company venue inside a former Pratt Library building at 1401 Light St., would resume Oct. 27. He also said a few scheduled events at the company's namesake old Hampden Presbyterian Church, at 3647 Falls Road, would go off as planned, and that bookings at the venue, which is undergoing some restoration, will resume at the beginning of the year.
That comes too late for Spindler and Hughes, a Catonsville couple who showed up at Branch No. 3 last Thursday. They had booked the venue about a year earlier through Church & Company, paying a $750 deposit. They were supposed to meet with Fox to drop some things off, go over some last-minute details and get a final look at the space before their wedding, which was scheduled for the next day.
When he and his fiancee arrived and knocked on the door, Spindler said, they got no answer. The place wasn't empty — the inside looked like there had been a party there recently, and no one had bothered to clean up — but nobody was inside. "I'm screaming in the windows, after we'd been knocking for about 40 minutes," Spindler said. "Nobody ever came to the door, nothing."
After considerable scampering and last-minute phone calls, Spindler and Hughes were able to find another venue, thanks to a last-minute accommodation by Chase Court in Midtown-Belvedere, which made their space available and worked with the couple to ensure everything went as smoothly as possible ("I can't say enough about them," a relieved Spindler said five days after the wedding).
Fox said he would see that the couple got their deposit back. Decisions on other deposits will be made on a case-by-case basis, he said.
Church & Company's problems began in late September, Fox said, when he parted with his business partner, Joseph Faura. Declining to discuss specifics, he said the two men were in "much disagreement over certain things," and that the dissolved partnership left him with limited access to the company's bank account.
While also declining to discuss specifics, Faura said he and Fox were no longer partners because of "a difference in the way that we wanted to run the company, and the future of the company." Faura also said his departure did not affect Fox's access to Church & Company's funds.
Adding that he hadn't spoken with Fox in about two weeks, Faura said,"in my mind, we parted ways amicably."
Fox said the pressure of running the business by himself became too much, and contributed to putting him in the hospital. He said he has re-connected with an earlier business partner and hopes to make good on all the company's commitments.
"We're going to move forward and get everything back on track," he pledged. "I'm also calling everyone, too. That's a lot of phone calls."
One of those calls went to Adam Shutz and Melissa Street, whose wedding had been booked for next weekend at Branch No. 3 — it had earlier been booked at the church, but when told that venue was unavailable, Shutz said, the couple agreed to move to the old library. Concerned over their inability to reach Fox and discuss plans with the wedding less than two weeks away, the prospective couple had begun scouting possible new locations. Then Fox called Wednesday night.
"He just popped up out of nowhere," Shutz said. He said Fox offered to meet them at the venue on Saturday, promising to give them their deposit back if he didn't show up. He even promised to hand over the key to the venue on Saturday, so they'd be sure to have access on the day of their wedding.
The phone call reduced their panic level somewhat, Shutz said. But they decided to have the wedding in his parents' backyard, under a tent. "It was a gesture," he said of Fox's offer, "but I don't think so."