As I sat here and reflected on the past year, as I’ve tried to do the last few years, I realized our wedding story took on a life of its own. Most would think the year they get married would be one of the best of their life; however, the months leading up to mine were by far the most stressful I can recall. I’m not talking normal wedding stress, no, that would have been a walk in the park compared to what we went through.
Throughout this post, I want to share my story, while also giving a tremendous amount of thanks to my dear husband, our close friends and family, strangers who turned into close friends and our vendors, who have made me look back on our wedding with pure happy thoughts, which I never thought possible when we received news back in August of this year.
Will proposed in April of 2015. While I didn’t grow up planning my wedding, the second Will proposed, I got extremely giddy about the details and couldn’t wait to start this journey together. I started to think about what I wanted and Pinterest led me down a rabbit hole…open space? necessary; vineyard? that sounds beautiful; water? sure; trees? yes!; gorgeous house to get ready in? absolutely!….there was no way a place like this could actually exist within our budget, so I knew I’d have to give up a few things. As we set out to look for venues, it wasn’t easy, how was I going to give up any of these ‘must-haves’ ??
After seeing four venues in person and scouring the internet at countless others, I realized I may not have to. Insert Elk Manor Winery.
We found them on the typical wedding websites, great reviews, beautiful photos, and every single thing we were looking for. We went to see it and fell in love immediately. The town was a bit small for our liking since we had such a large guest list; hotels worried us, but they had plenty of weddings there our size before, so we overlooked that. We met with the coordinator Molly (this is a fun turn of events later in the story), she was sweet and made us feel like we’d known her for years. There were two locations on the property that could fit our wedding party, the Manor House and the Beach House. Molly informed us that at the end of 2015, they would have a state of the art double decker glass tent installed at the Manor House that would provide a beautiful rain plan and we could get it at the current price since we were booking before it was built. As much as I liked the Beach location, I had always been worried about a rain plan so after several days of back and forth, we chose October 1, 2016 at the Manor House.
While it was a tad longer of an engagement than we thought we’d have, it meant that we’d have a lot less stress during planning since we had more time, right? Once the venue was chosen, we got to start the fun details! We signed a contract that also included Rouge as our Caterer since they had a relationship with the venue, they offered a discount and people raved, not only about Rouge, but how both establishments worked so well together. We were to make payments to Elk Manor and then they would pay Rouge, marketed as a “one stop shop for couples.” Over the course of the next several months, working with Elk Manor was not always easy, but we kept telling ourselves that it was worth it to have everything we wanted in a venue. The amount of rules set with this venue was astronomical and as coordinators started to change, more and more rules were set into place and we had no say in it. For example, the price to use the Manor House to get ready went from no extra charge, to $250/hour to $500/hour. These were conditions documented in emails with coordinators, rather than in the contract (my fault), that were not honored. I was told that coordinators who I worked with when I signed, were never really coordinators, even though I had their business cards to prove so.
I constantly checked in about the double decker tent because we needed dimensions for other vendors and I was always told that it would 100% be completed by the early part of 2016. Come July 2016, it still wasn’t on the property. But bigger things started to unfold in July that made the tent the least of our worries.
I received an email from Rouge’s Vice President informing me that none of our payments had been received from Elk Manor and that if they weren’t received by the end of the week, that they would no longer be catering our wedding. Naturally, I turned white, and felt pure panic. We had paid two of our three payments to Elk Manor at this point, with the third to be due at the end of that month. I immediately called Elk Manor to find out what was going on, yet another new coordinator answered my call explaining she couldn’t give any information. She couldn’t give any information about my wedding that was three months away and the $16K that I had paid them. I called Rouge and they told us their story and that 20 other couple’s were in the same situation, but at this point it was their word against Elk Manor’s. Who was I to believe. Rouge provided this bit of information: Simon Tusha, the owner of Elk Manor Winery had been found guilty in May of 2016 for fraud against the U.S. and embezzlement. Simon Tusha?? Who was this?? I had never heard this name in all the correspondence I had with Elk Manor. I went on to the Maryland Judiciary Site and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The owner of my wedding venue, whom I had never met or spoken with, had a three page long rap sheet. Will and I were in shock. We didn’t know what to do. How was this happening. I was supposed to be stressing about invitations, not being the mediator of two large establishments investigating where my large sum of money disappeared to. We figured this had to be a mistake.
Thanks to Facebook, I was lucky enough to get invited into a group that included some of the other Elk Manor affected couples, nine brides and one groom. We were all very formal at first, not knowing who to trust, or who’s information was correct, but one thing we did know was that not feeling alone in this scenario made things a lot less scary. We started to bond. Every bit of information one of us got, we shared with each other. We talked 24/7. If we weren’t attempting to call Elk Manor or Rouge, we were talking to each other. We referred to ourselves as the EMSS (“Elk Manor Shit Show”).
As I kept trying to get information from Elk Manor, I kept being told by the coordinators that they could not tell me anything and finally I asked to go to the source, Simon Tusha, himself. That man is shocking. First, he tried blowing smoke, telling me and the other couple’s all these terrible things about Rouge (completely untrue) and that he definitely paid them, but had no receipt to show for it because “he doesn’t ask for receipts for large sums of money.” That day, the first day I spoke with him, he threatened me, called me names, screamed at me, threatened my wedding and basically gave no remorse about what we were dealing with so close to our wedding day.
Through all this back and forth, our final payment was due to Elk Manor, in which they told us that if we didn’t pay, we’d be forfeiting our contract, meaning we’d lose our venue and deposits we’d already put down. Somehow, the language in the contract protected them. So we paid our final payment of $12K. A full $28K sent to this man, still hoping our wedding would happen. He promised it would happen. While we knew we couldn’t default on our contract, we decided to protect ourselves in a different way, by getting wedding cancellation Insurance. We weren’t sure if this would do much, but figured why not?
Fast forward five weeks to August 9, 2016, the day before I left for my Bachelorette party and seven weeks before our wedding date. Myself, along with the EMSS and others, received an email none of us were ever really expecting to receive. “Elk Manor Winery is closed indefinitely and there will no longer be any weddings held unless an additional $1K is paid per staff member required to be there.” Was this serious? Did I read this right? I couldn’t have. Even with everything that had happened until this point, we always thought we’d still have our wedding there. Once I snapped back into reality, I thought well, if he isn’t allowing us to have our wedding there, he has to at least give us our money back. Nope. He was $4 million in debt to the IRS alone. We weren’t going to see a dime. When we emailed him about that, he responded, “this wasn’t my choice.” This wasn’t his choice. Hm. It wasn’t his choice to defraud the government and lie to innocent people who had saved money, who’s parents had saved money, who’s grandparents had saved money, and spent months, even years planning this one day. But it wasn’t his choice to strip that from us. The day after he sent that email, he posted photos on Facebook of him in the front row of a Coldplay concert and of his Range Rover. Meanwhile 20 couples and their families sat in utter disbelief of this man’s “choices.”
Somehow I now had to get on a plane and disconnect from this entire situation, forget that I needed to replan an entire wedding in less than two months, to enjoy my Bachelorette party. This was something I could do and did have control over and let’s just say I didn’t allow Simon Tusha to take this from me too. Thank god for amazing friends who handed me a drink every second I may have even attempted to think about this and for my fiancé who spent his weekend calling venues and answering countless emails.
The Monday I returned home, I had taken off of work in advance because I knew I’d be moving slowly after four days in Key West, but I didn’t know I’d also be calling close to sixty venues looking for openings and driving hours to see others. Not only were we already feeling low, but to hear ‘unavailable’ or ‘we have the Friday and Sunday of your weekend available’ so many times was making it hard to feel anything. I was supposed to be focusing on normal stresses of my wedding and making small decisions, not hustling to find a venue.
At this point we were six weeks out and every single weekend was filled with either a wedding or bachelorette parties or travel. We didn’t have the time to wallow. We spent every weeknight driving up to North East, MD to look at venues. We didn’t want to change the location since all of our guests had already booked the hotels because there weren’t many in the area. Our radius was limited. We looked at venues that weren’t even completed yet. We were desperate. Then I received a call from someone giving me the name of someone who used to run a bed and breakfast and told me to just give it a shot. I did.
Captain Laurel Waters of the former Woodland Gardens Bed and Breakfast welcomed me into her home. I sat in her backyard for hours at my lowest talking with her and her parents. She offered me lemonade, at this point any kind gesture was huge in my eyes and something about it felt right. It wasn’t going to be easy. It was a blank slate. A large backyard on the water. Everything for this wedding was going to have to be DIY. But it was a space. Jenna of Pop the Cork Designs, my fantastic florist, Genevieve of La Fleur Du Jour, photographer, Kate, of Kate Ann Photography and Rouge POC, Sarah, came to meet me at the potential new venue to see if this was something we could work with. Exactly four weeks before our wedding date, we booked our new venue. Laurel even let us carry out the old southern tradition of burying a bottle of bourbon in hopes of good weather on our wedding day.
Every single day up until the wedding was exhausting. Calling rental companies because now we needed chairs, tables, bathrooms, etc, all of which was included at Elk Manor. (Noteworthy: Lawn games were one big thing we were excited about that was included with Elk Manor and when we lost that, we were disappointed. We had several family/friends step up and surprise us with hand crafted lawn games, including connect 4, giant jenga and corn hole). Sending out revision cards to guests with new information. Plus the things on our to-do list that were meant to be done the month of our wedding. Jenna answered countless calls and texts from me frantically asking questions and requesting last minute referrals.
I had a vision for my wedding. When I lost that, I was crushed. Not that the backyard wasn’t pretty. It just wasn’t what I had envisioned. And now with $28K down the drain, I didn’t have much room for details, since we had to repay Rouge and pay for all of the additional rentals. Insert Lisa Limberger of White Glove Rentals. I had went to White Glove at the beginning of my planning process and fell in love with absolutely everything. However, the prices were out of our budget, so we focused on a few key pieces. When I called Lisa about the situation, she felt terrible. She knew what losing my vision did to me and what her pieces could do to transform that space, so out of the kindness of her and her husband’s heart, she offered us a steep discount. I will never be able to repay the kindness they showed to us, but those rentals made the space absolutely beautiful.
The week of our wedding was here. That Monday afternoon I went down to our basement to get something and to my utter panic, our entire basement was flooded. Water was up to my ankles. In normal circumstances this would suck, but this was on another level. My wedding dress was in the basement, half of which was on the floor, meaning half of my dress was completely soaked, the week of our wedding. Wedding party gifts and décor covered our basement floor. Completely drenched. I called Will in a state of pure panic. After everything, how were we also dealt this hand? We weren’t sure if it was rain water, so we were worried the dress was completely saturated in murky discolored water, which doesn’t fare well with a white dress. I had a planning meeting with Jenna in an hour, so she just let me come over and we called cleaning companies. A man in a van came to pick up my dress. He took away the dress I had spent months picking out and months altering, with five days until our wedding. I was broken. Our house was a train wreck. There was stuff everywhere and somehow we were supposed to pack up and head to our wedding in just a few short days.
Not to mention it was a complete downpour every single day that week. I had rental companies calling me to figure out back up plans (which we didn’t have because this was a back yard wedding). I wasn’t able to use certain things we had picked out with White Glove for fear of ruining them in the rain. I kept telling myself, what next? Every time the phone would ring, every time a new email popped into my inbox, my heart stopped. The man in the van returned my dress Wednesday before our wedding and to my surprise, it looked good as new.
At the rehearsal on Friday evening, it was decided that we should at least do a run through of the ceremony under the tent since there was an 80% chance of rain the next day, all day. I was crushed. After all this. After replanning a wedding and opting for rentals and flowers and arches, I’d now have to get married with the backdrop of plastic tent side walls. I became numb. What could I do? Nothing about the weather, so I enjoyed the heck out of the rehearsal dinner night with my favorite people.
Our wedding day. We arrived at the venue at 8am (no extra charge per hour, thank goodness) to help the rental companies set up and start to get ready. I was jittery, but not because I was about to marry my best friend, but because there were about a million moving parts and a storm cloud ready to unleash at any moment.
Hair and makeup were in full swing. Vendors were rolling in. It was happening. My bridesmaids kept me updated with the weather by hour. “It went from 80% to 60% at 4pm!” “Now it’s only 30%!” “Wait 15%!!” Was it possible we were going to be able to have this outside the way I wanted? Before our first look, they asked if I wanted ceremony chairs set up outside, I nodded and that was that. I wasn’t thinking about it anymore. I first looked with my mom, my dad, my girls and then Will. Will, the one who I would be spending the rest of my life with. I wasn’t even thinking about the weather any longer, or Elk Manor, or Simon, or any of that chaos. This was my wedding day. I was surrounded with the people I loved and it was going to be a party one way or another. The rain held off for the ceremony and cocktail hour, I could hardly believe it (shout out to that bourbon tradition). It poured the second we entered the tent, but hey, that’s what tents are for. I walked into the tent and was absolutely amazed. What these vendors pulled off was pure magic. I remember saying over and over how beautiful everything was. The night was absolutely perfect. It was as if that was where we were supposed to get married all along.
Fast forward to now. I just received all of my photos from Kate and I am in absolute awe. What she was able to capture was incredible. She made those photos look like something out of a magazine. Maybe I’m biased, but you’d have never known this was a back yard wedding reconfigured four weeks before the date. I’d like to say all of the wonderful things about every vendor here, but I’ll save that for the reviews and I’ve linked them all below.
If you made it this far, I commend you. This was long. And mainly a way to gain closure for myself, but since you’re still here, I want to say thank you. This was my biggest challenge of 2016 and probably the hardest year of my life. Some may say I’ve had a pretty easy life then and I can’t say I disagree, but it doesn’t discount the fact that there were times this year I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. I felt low, I felt lost, I felt helpless, I felt numb, all when I should have been feeling the happiest. And it reemphasized the fact that I’m not in this world alone. There are bad people, but there are also some really really good ones and I’m lucky to be surrounded by them. During this year, I got to see magic before my eyes. This situation taught me that I’m actually a lot stronger than I thought I was, but also taught me to not be afraid to ask for help. It taught me that everything really does happen for a reason.
To my husband, to my family, to my friends, to my vendors, to EMSS, to my coworkers, to the commenters on Facebook, thank you for listening to my story, thank you for helping me along the way, thank you for being there. I’ve never been so grateful and I truly believe in paying it forward. Our wedding day worked out better than we could have ever imagined and there’s something to say about resending that positive energy back into the universe.
Enjoy the photos. All vendors are linked below, they’re fantastic!
Venue: Woodland Gardens Bed and Breakfast | Hair: Megan and Amanda from Halo Salon | Makeup: Brittany Cretella of Izzy B Makeup | Photographer: Kate Ann Photography | Florist: La Fleur Du Jour | Planner: Pop The Cork Designs | DJ/Band: Hero Band | Caterer: Rouge Catering | Gown designer/retailer: Leanne Marshall (Designer) Garnish Boutique (Retailer) | Bridesmaids Dresses: Bella Bridesmaids | Invitations/Signage: With Wild and Grace | Videographer: Cinematic by David M | Transportation: Viennas Transportation | Wedding Cake or Dessert: Rouge (Dessert Bar) & Sugar Bakers (Ceremonial Cake) | Rentals: White Glove Rentals (Vintage Unique Pieces) & Party Plus Rentals