Niki Stephan, 28, and Brian Smith, 28, of Portland, Ore., were prepared to say “For better or for worse” to one another, but the ballroom for their wedding wasn’t.
After they had already paid $4,000 to reserve the Arista Ballroom for the ceremony, the building suddenly closed because of fire code violations, and Stephan said its management would not refund her money.
“It’s been kind of hard, because a month after I got that email from the Arista, my department at work was reorganized and I lost my job,” Stephan told ABCNews.com. “It’s definitely been very trying, and initially I was, for some reason, bitter with everybody. But I realized that’s not the right way to approach this. Obviously I had to come up with a solution. So Brian and I had to spend the money we had saved for a small honeymoon on a wedding.”
But little did she know that behind the scenes was a group of very generous wedding vendors, working furiously to pick up the missing pieces. They were determined that Niki and Brian would have their fairy tale wedding.
Stephan is not the only bride whose wedding plans had been shattered on short notice by the Arista’s closing. So when Shannon Long, the wedding event manager for the Heathman Lodge in Vancouver, Wash., saw the story on ABC affiliate KATU, she decided she had to do something to help. Long immediately contacted Kristina Kuntz, a wedding aficionado who owns Niella’s Special Events.
“She gave me a call and said, ‘Look what happened. Do you think we could do something?’” Kuntz said. “So I told her to give me a couple of hours and let’s see what we can do. I reached out to a few of my vendors. They’re great people. They really care about people. All of a sudden the response was just amazing.”
Right away, Kuntz had about five emails from vendors all asking what they could do to do help. And from there, the response kept growing.
“I started getting more and more emails. People were contacting me saying, ‘I saw you need a videographer. We want to be involved,’” said Kuntz.
It took Kuntz about three weeks to line up all the vendors. She even worked with Long to arrange for the couple to keep their original wedding date, March 17. The celebration will now be held at Heathman Lodge.
“We actually got what her date was, and kept her same colors. I got the stuff in her colors so it would match. We kept the same menu and food she was going to do at the place that closed down. But we’re doing it a bigger scale,” Kuntz said.
After all the details had been set, Kuntz and Long arranged to surprise the bride, who also works part-time as a wedding officiant.
“She said, ‘Could you meet Kristina and some of the other wedding vendors to plan the wedding expo for next February?’ So I was in business mode. I had my laptop and everything,” Stephan said. “So we were just chatting and Kristina said she had to go to the restroom. And a couple minutes later I felt this tap on my shoulder and I turn around it’s Shelly, who had done the story the first time. I just remember being blinded by a lot of light.”
The affiliate, KATU, was there to record the bride’s surprise on camera as Kuntz presented her with a check for $20,000 to cover her wedding expenses. “Everything’s going to be put together for you. You just need to show up,” Kuntz told Stephan.
“The best part about it was they got all these vendors — a florist, an Italian soda bar, a dessert buffet, and a lot of those were things we really wanted to have, but because of what had had happened, we knew we wouldn’t have the extra money to do them,” Stephan said. “So it was really awesome to get all those extra things I was only ever dreaming of.”
Kuntz read her the full list of everyone who donated their services.
“It’s a really weird feeling because I’ve never really been given anything. I’ve worked really hard for everything I have. To be given something, and something so large, how to you repay them for this?” Stephan said. “I still am piecing together the concept of these people helping us out. It’s very surreal. I don’t think a thank you or a hug will ever be enough.”
Kuntz was as touched as the bride. She started crying as she told her the good news.
“I’m in the industry to make people’s dreams come true, so to do this was just wonderful,” Kuntz said.
The couple is currently trying to take their previous vendor to court, and is so grateful that this opportunity has allowed them to now focus on saving money for their dream honeymoon to Italy.
“It’s definitely helped us feel like we can finally breathe. Even while trying to bring them to justice,” Stephan said. “I just want them to do the right thing. And that’s what I’m hoping they’ll eventually do. But at least I have something more positive to focus on right now.”
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