Niagara Gazette

August 8, 2008

THE WEDDING PLANNER: Everything but the "I do"

By Elizabeth Page

With the warm April sun streaming through the windows of St. Paul’s Church in Kenmore, all 165 pairs of eyes were fixed upon bride and groom Roseanna and Joseph Thomas to watch as the Philadelphian pair exchanged vows recently in their hometown.

Getting to that perfect moment was a journey in itself. Someone had to tend to all the little details, from the ceremony’s string trio to the white silk dress and the reception at the Buffalo Historical Society themed around vintage photographs.

In this case, that someone wasn’t the bride. It was the wedding planner.

“Everything was beyond the bride’s expectations,” said Tammy Lee-Papia, wedding coordinator and owner of Heavenlee Weddings in Lockport, which planned the Thomas wedding. “They went and had a great time, something they didn’t think they would be able to do. In her words, it was a fairy tale wedding come true.”

With so many details wrapped up in a wedding, it’s enough to turn engagement bliss into wedding stress faster than the bride can throw the bouquet.

So where is a girl to begin?

Plan a budget

“The No. 1 thing is to sit down and plan that budget before you do anything,” Lee-Papia said. “You have to know what you have to work with.”

First, take a close look at all means of available means of financing. Calculate what monies come from the future bride, groom, families and from any savings, and avoid taking out loans to finance a wedding.

After money has been squared away, break down the wedding itself. Plan on how many people are on the guest list, keeping in mind that the reception alone makes up 47 to 50 percent of the total cost. Also factor in other top items such as the dress (8 percent to 10 percent), the flowers (6 percent to 8 percent), and miscellaneous items (6 percent to 7 percent).

Once finances have been mapped out, add fun that reflects the personalities of the bride and the groom.

Be creative

“Be creative,” Lee-Papia said. “Think outside the box. Every couple is a different, and the wedding should reflect them. That’s what they’re paying for.”

Take music, for example. Making a comeback this year is live music, and more brides are turning to this trend to add a touch of originality and class to jazz up their weddings.

“Everything goes through a season,” Lee-Papia said. “There’s been a change in even the floral designs. Lights are used, and some centerpieces don’t have flowers, but use candles and feather plumes.”

Handmade invitations

A do-it-yourself invitation is another way that adds a creative yet personal touch while reducing cost.

“There are stationary kits at A.C. Moore that we got, and I had a 50 percent off coupon,” said future bride Lindsay Wendt of Cambria. “We looked up different clip art on the computer, and my aunt is going to print them out. That’s a way I’m cutting costs.”

Over the last few years, Lee-Papia has seen Friday and Sunday afternoon weddings become more popular.

Destination weddings

Destination weddings are also in demand, as many couples, including the Thomas newlyweds, come back because of family that this style of reception is becoming a favorite of older couples.

She also has high expectations for the vineyards in Niagara County, especially for places such as Spring Lake Winery in Lockport.

“I’m looking forward to see how Niagara County does on the wine trail compared to the vineyards in California,” she said.


Regardless of what type of wedding and where it is held, having a wedding coordinator as a planning partner in crime is something that never goes out of style. Lockport native and mother of the bride Michelle Tracey found this to be especially true.

When her daughter, Sara Andes, and son in-law, Wade, were first engaged, they had 18 months before the wedding in May 2007. With both bride and groom going to school full time and working several jobs, Tracey said Lee-Papia gave the family peace of mind to know they had an expert on their side to help navigate any problems.

“Even though we had loads and loads of time, every wedding has a couple of little hitches,” she said.

The hitch that almost interfered with the Andes’ wedding was a missing member of the wedding party.

“The little flower girl was stuck in traffic,” Tracey said. “But Tammy made some phones calls and delayed some things and got everything together.”

For many, a wedding planner can seem like a luxury expense. In the end, supporters say the cost is worth the stress saved.

Lee-Papia offers four packages ranging from $499 ranging to $1,500 and can also work with an individual at an hourly rate of $35.

After coordinating more than 50 weddings in six years, she has had no complaints.

“I would definitely use Tammy if (I) didn’t have a year to plan,” Tracey said. “I would recommend having a wedding planner for the whole thing.”

Thomas agrees.

“Tammy’s been great,” she said. “She’s completely taken the stress out.”

Elizabeth Page is a local freelance writer.