Venue, photographer, gown, tuxedo, flowers, tent, cake, catering—there’s much to consider before the big day arrives. In fact, that list is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also jewelry and music and lighting and cinematography and—sheesh! You’ll need a wedding planner for sure. Here are local couples’ go-to vendors.
Meghan Streit (Shindig Weddings & Events)
Runner-up: Marisa Vrooman (Orpha Events)
Honorable mention: Adam Donovan-Groves (Donovan-Groves Events)
There are many reasons to hire a wedding planner: logistical planning, negotiating with other vendors, even bustling your dress after you say “I do.” But most of all, it’s so all you and your betrothed need to worry about on your big day is which way to the cake. Again this year, readers put Meghan Streit in the driver’s seat. She hits the ground running with your big ideas —or even the small ones, turning them into a full-fledged event you’ll always remember. Runner-up Marisa Vrooman keeps brides happy with creativity, organization and (bonus!) cinematography services.
REHEARSAL DINNER VENUE
Blue Mountain Brewery
Runner-up: The Local
Honorable mention: Ivy Inn
Two expansive dining areas (with a full kitchen!) and an ever-expanding patio make Afton’s Blue Mountain Brewery the ideal place to kick back with a few brews to celebrate the happy couple, readers say. Drink in the brews, but don’t miss the views—the patios give visitors a clear sightline to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Guests enjoy a slightly more intimate experience at runner-up The Local, where the Belmont joint serves Southern fare from its warm, rustic setting with exposed brick walls and hardwood floors.
Runner-up: With This Ring
Honorable mention: East West
For most of us, it’s hard to imagine ending up on the big screen, starring in a film where every frame is a close-up on an emotion playing out on our faces. And while your wedding video may never show in theaters, again this year, you say Ian Atkins is the man you want behind the camera to capture your every happiness and turn it into a motion picture worthy of blockbuster status. In the runner-up spot, Nashville-based With This Ring, whose Charlottesville couples are loud and proud to support an internationally recognized team.
Harvest Moon Catering
Runner-up: Barbeque Exchange
Honorable mention: The Local
Just as invitations set the tone for your wedding, the food leaves a lasting impression. Again this year, readers chose Harvest Moon to create a menu worthy of remembering. Whether it’s an heirloom tomato salad with mozzarella and basil in the summertime or braised short ribs with charred onion vinaigrette in the winter, the chefs at HMC craft a seasonal plate for a classic Virginia wedding. For more casual fare, readers say Barbeque Exchange is the best way to pig out.
King Family Vineyards
Runner-up: Trump Winery
Honorable mention: Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards
What do you get with a King Family wedding? We’ll start with an easy one: wine. Also voted Best Local Winery, King Family has some of the best in the business, from various Meritages to its popular Crosé, plus Blue Ridge Mountain views and a variety of spaces for the ceremony, reception and cocktail hour. And the Crozet venue hosts polo matches every Sunday (hint: The stables make a great spot for photos). That’s why brides vote it No. 1 this year as the best place to get hitched.
CAKES AND DESSERTS
Albemarle Baking Co.
Runner-up: Chandler’s Bakery
Honorable mention: Cakes by Rachel
It’s hard to top a princess cake. Except maybe with a lemon pound cake. Or even a chocolate sponge cake. Actually, readers say any cake at Albemarle Baking Company is a sweet choice, especially at the hands of Riki Tanabe, the West Main Street bakery’s pastry chef of 17 years. Chandler’s Bakery takes runner-up with its old-school confections, from black forest to German chocolate.
BAND (OR BOOKING AGENCY)
Sam Hill Entertainment
Runner-up: South Canal Street
Honorable mention: EastCoast Entertainment
Most couples say they want to spend a good portion of their budget on one of three things: photography, food…or music. Sam Hill Entertainment has been helping lovebirds get down (get down tonight) at every price point for more than 20 years, with sounds from bluegrass to big band. Meanwhile, country, classic hits and soul is the name of the game for South Canal Street, the three-man group that this year nabs second place.
Charlottesville High School String Quartet
Runner-up: Eve Watters
Honorable mention: Michael Coleman
What do a bunch of kids know about music? If they’re part of the Charlottesville High School String Quartet—a self-directed group of young musicians from CHS’ award-winning orchestra—the answer is “a lot.” Comprising four rising 12th-graders, the current group is named The Westwood Quartet and performs at various events in and around Charlottesville. Vocalist and Celtic harper Eve Watters, in second place this year, continues to charm crowds.
DJ (OR BOOKING AGENCY)
John Garland DJ Services
Runner-up: Derek Tobler Professional DJ Services
Honorable mention: DJ Ricky
A DJ cues the music, sure, but he’s also responsible for the rhythm of your reception: He’s the one who’ll invite you in for your first dance, direct guests to the dance floor and, sometimes, even make announcements about wedding logistics (bus leaves in 10 minutes!). So, you need someone who knows all the hits, from Michael Jackson to Miley Cyrus, but also has a little personality. Again this year, readers say that man is John Garland. Derek Tobler comes in second with an extensive music collection, plus extra services like dance lessons and karaoke.
Runner-up: Dave Norris
Honorable mention: Paul Walker
As an interfaith minister, Sacred Ground Ceremonies founder Claire Frances officiates many weddings in which people from two different backgrounds are coming together. And she says that’s one of her favorite parts, giving family and friends of the couple an experience they may never otherwise have. After all, weddings are about love, and the melding of two lives. That’s what drives Dave Norris, this year’s runner-up, too: He’ll tailor his services to meet whatever demands the couple has on their special day (including reciting the service from The Princess Bride: “Mawwiage…”).
TENTS AND RENTALS
Skyline Tent Company
Runner-up: Festive Fare
Honorable mention: MS Events
They may say rain on your wedding day is good luck, but it’s always best to have a back-up plan, which is why readers call in Skyline Tent. Not only does the No. 1 company keep you dry in the event of inclement weather, often a tent can add extra ambience by creating opportunities for lighting, draping or even a dance floor. For rentals, couples look to Festive Fare for everything from the chairs at the ceremony to the forks at the reception (and everything in between).
Top Knot Studio
Runner-up: Brianna B. Adams
Honorable mention: First Look Artistry
More than 20 years of experience has given Top Knot owner Erica Haskins a clear picture of what today’s brides are looking for: In a word, romance. A Top Knot ’do is natural, easy and, most of all, beautiful. Might as well call her business Top Notch. (Sorry.) This year’s runner-up, Brianna Adams, enhances brides’ tresses with unfussy updos.
SOUND AND LIGHTING
Blue Ridge AV & Lighting
Runner-up: MS Events
Honorable mention: The AV Company
There’s almost nothing worse at a wedding than straining to hear the couple in question delivering their vows. Or feeling the bass pound through your chest when everyone heads to the dance floor. Or even the wretched nails-on-a- chalkboard squeak of the microphone when things aren’t properly synced. Enter Blue Ridge AV, who for more than 20 years has been ensuring an enjoyable experience—whether with lighting, draping or décor—at venues all across Virginia. In second place, MS Events handles lighting and rentals from napkins to chandeliers.
Rock Paper Scissors
Runner-up: T&N Printing
Honorable mention: Caspari
Traditional, colorful, contemporary—your invite could take many directions, and the decision-making (for invitations and throughout wedding planning) can get overwhelming. Readers agree again this year that Rock Paper Scissors cuts ahead of the competition by walking you through the process until you nail down a paper suite you can feel excited about. Or, if you’re designing it on your own, readers say there’s no better place to have them printed than T&N.
Keller & George
Runner-up: Fink’s Jewelers
Honorable mention: Andrew Minton Jewelers
Shine bright like a diamond? Shine bright in diamonds is more like it. Keller & George has kept brides sparkling down the aisle since the 1870s. In fact, it was the first retail business in Charlottesville. Longevity alone gets you in the door, but it’s the collection of fine and estate jewelery that keeps you coming back year after year. Another classic, Fink’s Jewelers, impressed with a variety of collections.
Runner-up: Rob Garland Photographers
Honorable mention: Ashley Cox
Whether she’s following a couple to the Lawn to capture the bridal party streaking post-wedding (she really did that!) or scoping out the best vantage point from which to get your “I dos” on film, Jen Fariello loves being a photographer—and it shows. Her 21 years of expertly shooting weddings earns her the No. 1 spot. Rob Garland takes the silver, with his straightforward, journalistic approach.
Sealed With A Kiss
Runner-up: David’s Bridal (Richmond)
Honorable mention: Church Street Bridal (Lynchburg)
While there aren’t many local options when it comes to searching for the perfect dress, area brides say that’s okay—Susan Sorbello’s downtown gown shop has more than enough to offer, with a collection of romantic, classic and of-the-moment options, plus an in- house designer if you’re searching for custom. And SWAK has a location in Richmond that’s stocked with its own unique selection. There, too, ubiquitous David’s Bridal helps price-conscious brides find the dress of their dreams.
Runner-up: Evonne Burns
Honorable mention: Rouge 9
You know you’re in good hands when the woman who’s in charge of putting your best face forward (on your big day, no less) has also done the same for Dave Matthews. Latham, whose work has appeared in film, print and on television, keeps brides beaming even through their happy tears. Evonne Burns’ 17 years of experience nabs her second place.
GIFTS AND FAVORS
Gearharts Fine Chocolates
Runner-up: The Happy Cook
Honorable mention: The Virginia Shop
Talk about a sweet finish: Local brides know there’s no better way to end their big day than sending guests off with a handful of Charlottesville-made chocolates from the best in the biz. Choose two for a to-go box or select from Venezuelan chocolate bars (espresso, almond, blueberry…), which Gearharts will wrap in a custom label with your names. For another foodie find, The Happy Cook’s robust selection of cookware and kitchen gadgets make great gifts for the bridal party or even your beloved (and, in that case, you can enjoy it, too).
Runner-up: Ambassador Limousine
Honorable mention: Camryn Limousine
To date, Albemarle Limousine has transported more than 21,000 wedding guests in its fleet of motorcoaches and buses of all sizes. And that’s just to and from weddings. The woman-owned company also offers tour packages—to wineries, breweries and even tubing on the James—which come in handy if you’re planning a whole wedding weekend and want to show off our area. In second place, Ambassador Limousine has been shuttling guests to your big day for more than 20 years.
Hedge Fine Blooms
Runner-up: Southern Blooms by Pat’s Floral Design
Honorable mention: Blue Ridge Floral Design
Modeled after a European flower market, Hedge Fine Blooms’ retail store is a feast for the eyes, so it isn’t a giant leap in logic that its bouquets—often organically arranged, with cascades of eucalyptus or colorful silk ribbons—make just as much of a statement. Local brides turn to the downtown store to up the romance in everything from their own bouquets to table arrangements. Mother-daughter team Pat Roberts and Sherry Spencer take second, with more than 30 years in the biz.