Wedding Wonderland: Two-day festival on the island brings in lots of business

ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- Matt Schole will provide the cake. Kristi Dole will bring the wedding gowns.

Jeff Braaten will show off a 39-passenger luxury bus.

The three Bradenton business owners will be among an estimated 70 vendors at the fourth annual Anna Maria Island Wedding Festival this weekend, vying for a piece of the destination wedding industry.

Those returning to the festival for the fourth year say the weekend event provides valuable direct marketing that’s boosting business.

“It definitely brings in a lot of business,” said Matt Schole, co-owner of Matt & Dom’s Custom Cakes at 3737 Manatee Ave. W. “Maybe a good 20 percent of our business each year is direct leads from the wedding festival.”

The Anna Maria Island Wedding Festival started in 2008 as a one-day event with about 40 vendors.

This year, the festival has grown to at least 70 vendors and for the first time will be a two-day event.

The event itself is expected to generate business for island merchants.

An estimated 800 people will attend the festival, and hotel and restaurant owners say that will translate to more sales this weekend.

“We usually get a lot of people here for those type of events,” said Sue Shinka, manager of Bridge Tender Inn at 135 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach. “We were slammed this weekend with the Cortez Fishing Festival. We’ve gotten really busy, really fast with this gorgeous weather.”

Island merchants and the Anna Maria Island Chamber organized the wedding event after noticing year-to-year increases in destination weddings on Anna Maria Island.

The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has provided funding for the festival each year -- some years as much as $10,000 -- for the chamber to use on advertising expenses.

Vendors pay a fee to showcase their businesses among various stops on the seven-mile stretch. The fees range from $250 to $350.

Dole says the fee is money well spent for her bridal shop, Something Blue Bridal Boutique at 3621 Manatee Ave W.

“It’s a great event,” Dole said. “It gives us great publicity and it has given us great exposure to out-of-town brides.”

Dole caters to them by showcasing chiffon gowns and other light, flowing dresses that are practical for walking down a sandy aisle.

“We’ll bring gowns, bridesmaid dresses, khaki suits for the men,” Dole said. “We’ll have plenty to show off.”

Braaten, owner of DreamMaker Limousines, says he makes the best of the event by showing off his products, which include a 39-passenger party bus equipped with leather sofas and a TV.

“This introduces us to a lot of potential future guests and gets my vehicles in front of them to see the day of the festival,” Braaten said.

Related stories from Bradenton Herald