Aja Jones got engaged to Jonathan Donati in September, and attended her first wedding show last month. But rather than walking into a large convention center swarming with people and a dizzying number of options, she walked into local distillery Wigle Whiskey to peruse a carefully-curated selection of Pittsburgh's artisan wedding vendors. At newly minted boutique wedding show Hitchburgh, it's all about quality over quantity.
“This was my very first bridal show of any kind,” says Jones. “My impression of bridal shows has always included visions of huge crowds and scary stampedes. Hitchburgh was anything but. Next time, I might even bring my fiancé — maybe.”
Wigle Whiskey was decorated with a variety of paper decorations, such as homemade garlands and pinwheels. Clear confetti-filled balloons bobbed near the ceiling. The event wasn’t packed with desperate wedding planners; instead, there was a comfortable amount of people milling around, sampling, sipping and chatting.
Jones, a Lawrenceville resident, attended Hitchburgh with a friend, and they wasted no time in checking out the table displays from a variety of vendors offering catering, craft cocktails, eco-friendly gowns and more. Since she began planning for her and Donati’s big day, Jones has discovered that finding the right vendors isn't as easy as she thought it would be.
“Not knowing where and how to start looking for vendors is tough,” she said. “Hitchburgh is sure to become a great resource. The more local vendors that can be exposed through an event like this the better.”
The couple has just decided on an October 2014 wedding in the Laurel Highlands.
“We’re just now starting to think about a vision for the big day,” she says. “I hope we can incorporate a variety of local vendors, especially if they all include some form of whiskey!”
Hitchburgh is a collaboration between seven Pittsburgh wedding artisans who all noticed the same unfilled niche in the Pittsburgh wedding market. Couples wanted unique, offbeat weddings but didn’t have an easy way to find vendors who understood their aesthetic.
The seven founders include Kate Romane from Highland Park restaurant E2; Erin Szymanski, owner of the indie-bridal boutique Glitter & Grit; Jill Steiner, event planner from Wigle Whiskey; Bree Chumley, owner of stationery boutique As a Paper Doll; Karla and Matt Schroeder, owners of Om Nom Bake Studio; Jimmy Lohr, proprietor of sustainable floral shop greenSinner; and Bridget Pope, owner of bridesmaid boutique Bella Bridesmaid.
“Hitchburgh is our alternative to the big convention center wedding expos that feature larger companies,” says Steiner. “There are so many wonderful options in terms of wedding vendors within the city and we decided to get everyone together in one setting for the convenience of brides-to-be.”
Hitchburgh will be held on a quarterly basis at a variety of locations, with the next event planned for March. To help keep the event intimate, attendance is by invitation only, but an invitation can be requested on the Hitchburgh website or through any of the founding vendors.
“We decided to do an invite-only format to keep it personalized for the attendees,” says Steiner. “This way, we can really focus on preparing for their needs and tailoring the event to our guests.”
At the December event, each vendor had a dedicated space, often a table, where they were able to show-off what they had to offer couples.
“The vendors all work together to coordinate the event,” says Chumley, from As a Paper Doll. “For example, I made all of the paper decorations for the event.”
The first Hitchburgh also featured a table full of charcuterie-style light bites, sweet treats, specialty cocktails, wine samples, fresh brewed coffee, floral arrangements and on site-created air-plant boutonnieres, deejay music, racks full of bridal and bridesmaid gowns, and goodie bags for attendees to take home.
The founders intend to work each event and to incorporate other vendors as well — the December incarnation also featured Kelsey Kradel Photography, Pittsburgh Winery, Caffe D’Amore Catering and deejay Jarret Tebbets.
Each quarter will also feature a specific theme — in December, “urban whimsy” was brought to life by the dichotomy of the modern and urban location of Wigle Whiskey and the rustic-themed table displays of the participating vendors.
Katie Sullivan and Kevin Johnson from Lawrenceville were among Hitchburgh’s guests and appreciated seeing the “urban whimsy” theme brought to life. They are considering a similar theme for their own wedding.
“We really want a combination of urban and natural elements at our wedding,” says Sullivan. “We really like the clash of the elements.”
Engaged only a few months, they are just getting started on the wedding planning process, but they know one thing for certain – it’ll be a unique and intimate affair, with just family close friends. They even went as far as designing Sullivan’s engagement ring together so that it’d be an original piece.
“It’ll be non-traditional,” Sullivan says of their upcoming marriage ceremony and reception. “It will be a celebration of the things we love and all of the places we’ve lived together.”
Sullivan and Johnson believe local vendors will play a major role in helping them achieve the wedding of their dreams. In fact, they’ve only looked at local vendors thus far. Among their biggest concerns: coordinating all of them. Hitchburgh, the pair said, showed them how closely knit the artisan wedding community is in Pittsburgh.
“We’ve been to a lot of these vendors’ shops and tried many of their goods,” said Johnson. “It’s nice to see they all know each other and work well together too.”
PHOTOGRAPHS BY RAY MILES