Six months after Hurricane Florence, venues and vendors are bouncing back
WILMINGTON — Miles of water separated Angela Woodcock from her bridal shop after Hurricane Florence.
Before hunkering down as the storm made landfall, Woodcock brought several gowns to her Rocky Point home to finish alterations. Now, with the storm gone but its torrential downpour still flooding roads between Pender and New Hanover counties, Woodcock had to find a way to Camille’s of Wilmington.
“I knew I had to get back to the store,” Woodcock said. “Brides kind of want their dresses.”
So, bagging the dresses securely, Woodcock loaded them into a boat, and she and her husband ferried them to waiting brides in Wilmington.
Wilmington’s warm climate, beaches and picturesque riverfront made it a wedding destination, and over the decades a thriving bridal industry has blossomed. But damage from September’s Hurricane Florence, both real and perceived, made many couples postpone or relocate their ceremonies.
Six months later, vendors say the weddings are coming back, but there’s still a ways to go to make up for lost revenue. Between the storm and mid-November, Woodcock and co-owner Joanne Miranda said barely any brides came to Camille’s.
“I don’t think we’re fully recouped yet,” Woodcock said. “We’re probably 80 to 90 percent there.”
Like much of the region, wedding and reception venues took a beating from Florence — especially at local beaches.
The Oceanic Restaurant and its Crystal Pier, for instance, remain closed as of March. Wrightsville Beach’s Shell Island Resort just reopened in February, as did much — but not all — of the Blockade Runner Resort.
Airlie Gardens, another popular venue, was briefly closed by damage, but reopened in November.
On Water Street in downtown Wilmington, The River Room sustained flooding from the swollen Cape Fear River. Owner George Wainwright said the venue is once again hosting weddings, but more repairs are needed.
“It’s still a work in progress, but we’re getting there,” he said. “We’re about to complete everything. It’s been a long, hard road, but we’re getting there.”
For some couples, images of Wilmington cut off from the rest of the state by flooded roads caused cold feet.
“Several people shifted their dates to come back, and then others were pretty apprehensive to move forward with what had happened,” Wainwright said. “So they chose to get married somewhere else.”
Weighing the costs
Not every local vendor had her business majorly interrupted by Florence.
Tammy Hodge of Creative Cake Design said she’s stayed busy baking wedding cakes the past six months, sometimes thanks to brides who were flexible with their plans.
“With planners or photographers there are lots of those, but there aren’t as many people who do cakes” in Wilmington, she said. “We all suffered a loss of some sort, but a lot of the brides were really sweet.”
Even as the wedding business starts to boom again, Woodcock and Miranda are seeing the storm’s impact in other ways.
Prom season, usually a busy time at the shop, has been slow this year. The Camille’s owners posit that families are still having to make tough financial decisions after repairing their homes.
Those shifted financial priorities have also resulted in brides delaying of scaling back their weddings. According to CostofWedding.com, operated by The Wedding Report, Inc., the average Wilmington wedding costs $12,989.
“I’m sure it’s affected everyone the same way. People just don’t have the money,” Woodcock said. “You really have to have a refrigerator before you have a wedding.”
But Wilmingtonians can still expect to glimpse plenty of weddings this year. As Woodcock and Miranda sat for an interview in Camille’s, a young bride-to-be tried on her gown as friends snapped pictures.
“We’re happy to see brides starting to get back,” Miranda said.
Reporter Cammie Bellamy can be reached at Cammie.Bellamy@StarNewsOnline.com.