Won’t You Marry Me, Bill? P-Town Shines at LGBT Wedding Expo
Preparing for the 20th Annual Original GLBT Expo, one of the largest trade shows on the East Coast, held in New York City from Mar. 8 to 10, is no small task, especially for the Provincetown Business Guild, with membership exceeding 300. This year, the guild appears to have struck upon a thriving cross-promotional endeavor between LGBT-owned and friendly businesses up and down the Eastern Seaboard to display three exhibition booths offering more than 3,500 resources sure to boost P-town’s gay tourism and wedding industry.
"Most people who get married here are web savvy, so I usually give them the names of my three favorite [specific] vendors, like florists and bakers," said David Schermacher, co-owner and operator of Ptown Parties. "Then I coordinate the rest of the planning with whichever ones they choose."
Schermacher is a Kansas City, Kansas transplant of 2002. After being somewhat coerced by a close friend into moving and opening a catering business in P-town, Schermacher couldn’t be happier that he did. He met his life and business partner, Todd Wagar, seven years ago at a VFW bingo night, and together they have made Ptown Parties a success. From coordinating transportation and rental needs to day care services and always making sure there’s enough ice on hand, Schermacher said their company is the only one doing large, full-service events.
"Some days there are 10 or more weddings going on in town," added Schermacher. "And occasionally a wedding is a three-day event."
But like with most of the businesses in town of which capacity, stock and labor are minimized, Schermacher relies on coordinating events with the other local business owners.
"Doing a lot of business with Harbor Lounge, Red Inn and Cape Cab is instrumental in pulling off 30 to 40 weddings and 60 to 70 wedding-related events a season," he told EDGE. "About 60 percent of our revenue comes from wedding-related events such as welcome receptions, rehearsal dinners, clambakes, brunches and farewell receptions that are coordinated with other businesses."
Wedding Expo a Boon for P-town Small Businesses
Since 2004, when a surge of shotgun weddings invaded this small community on the Cape, the PBG has been determined in promoting P-town as the quintessential GLBT wedding destination, hence a booth dedicated solely to gay weddings. The PBG has been an exhibitor at the expo for more than a decade and now uses the outlet as a remembrance of Massachusetts being the first state to allow gay marriage, said PBG Executive Director Erin Atwood.
"We are going to make a big splash [at this year’s expo]," a PBG board member and expo volunteer told EDGE.
Decades ago, P-town was experiencing a schism within the community over being more gay accepting, which was incised by the establishment of the Guild. In the mid-1970s, a handful of Provincetown business owners, disenchanted by the town’s Chamber of Commerce, formed an organization to market their businesses to gay visitors, "to give the gay business community in Provincetown a focus and a forum."
While homophobia across the nation was running rampant, support from the mainstream P-town community was slim at best. Many residents saw their town as an artists’ haven and fishing village, rather than as the popular perception of it as a free sex zone for deviants. According to reports, there was a lot of anti-gay rhetoric being thrown around.
It took only a few short years, however, for the BPG membership to rise above 200 and for its ill-received inaugural Carnival event of 1976 to become one of the most-attended LGBT events on the Cape.
Despite the town’s steady drop in population since 2000, the townspeople are working harder and more cohesively to keep P-town’s commerce vibrant, through both LGBT and straight tourism. Via referrals, word-of-mouth and social media, the community continues to thrive from hosting hundreds of weddings each season, which typically runs May to October.
This is a trend that Cathy Nagorski, general manager of Sage Inn & Lounge, hopes to trade in on. Nagorski took over in November 2011 after new owners renovated the property. She said the 35,000-square-foot inn has 19 guest rooms, a lounge, new commercial kitchen and events/reception hall.
"We hosted five LGBT weddings in 2012, with the majority being Boston-based couples," Nagorski told EDGE. "And there are currently eight scheduled for 2013, a mix of gay and straight couples."
Nagorski recommended scheduling reservations for a wedding a year in advance, but will accept shortened time frames as availability allows. With a background in catering and event planning, Nagorski said she could pull off a beautiful wedding in just a few months, if necessary. She also encourages couples to extend their stay past their wedding day, which she said some tend to do, anywhere from two to five days.
Betsy Melamed, owner of Bayside Betsy’s restaurant, is a 15-year member of the PBG and will be one of more than a dozen Guild volunteers at the GLBT Expo in March. Her establishment, which has a capacity of 92, is limited to wedding-related events and off-site, small wedding catering, and she said the restaurant is open 11 months of the year, January excluded.
Another member of the Guild and resident of P-town, Rev. Vernon Diannah Porter has been "bringing people together for life" since 2004. He has performed hundreds of ceremonies for couples from all over the world, and about 80 percent of those were LGBT couples, he said.
"Soup to nuts, there is no other place like [Provincetown] to get married," he said. "It is the Las Vegas mecca of weddings."
The Original GLBT Expo will be held Mar. 9-10, Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. Advanced tickets are $12/ $17 at the door. For more information, visit www.originalglbtexpo.com. To learn more about the Provincetown Business Guild or their members, visit www.ptown.org.