Nancy Taussig has performed weddings everywhere from museums to a McDonald’s parking lot. As owner of Barefoot Weddings, she performs approximately 100 ceremonies per year, from Anna Maria Island south to Casey Key and Venice.
Just a half-dozen of those are on Longboat Key.
“It’s a very small percentage,” said Taussig, who recently performed her 1,300th ceremony.
Meanwhile, Longboat Key’s neighbor to the north — Anna Maria Island — promotes itself as Florida’s beach-wedding capital.
So, why hasn’t Longboat gotten a bigger slice of the wedding cake?
“I think it was never really promoted,” Taussig said of the island’s possibility as a wedding destination.
So, one year ago, Taussig approached Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Dawn Mims about creating a network of wedding professionals, such as photographers, caterers and florists, who could offer “a lot of cross-pollination.”
The group started out informally but has grown to approximately 25 members who are just starting to promote the Key as an idyllic wedding destination. It’s now chaired by Bill Shuttleworth, a Longboat Island Chapel Board of Directors member whose wife, Laurie, became the chapel’s wedding coordinator last year.
“We don’t have to sell the concept that we can do more weddings on the Key,” Shuttleworth said. “It’s a matter of how.”
A tale of two islands
Photographer Jack Elka dubbed Anna Maria Island “Florida’s beach-wedding capital” in the second Anna Maria Island Wedding Guide in 2008.
“Everybody laughed at me, but I did say it,” Elka said. “But then it went on the Internet, and if it’s on the Internet, it has to be true.”
Elka, who is part of the Key Wedding Professionals, hopes the group can fashion a unique title for Longboat that will spotlight it as a wedding destination.
Six years ago, Elka formed the Anna Maria Wedding Merchants Association because he frequently found himself on the phone with brides for more than an hour answering questions such as, “Where can I find a florist?” or “Where should I have a rehearsal dinner?”
Anna Maria Island already featured popular wedding spots: the Sandbar, the BeachHouse Restaurant, Harrington House Beachfront Bed & Breakfast and Tradewinds, to name a few.
“It really had the infrastructure,” Elka said. “I kind of rounded it up to make it easy for a bride to spend her money.”
In 2008, the association held the first Anna Maria Island Wedding Festival. Since then, the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce has taken over organizing the festival, which, last May, showcased more than 50 vendors spread across five different venues.
Deborah Wing, vice president of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce and chairwoman of the festival, described how the wedding business can impact the local economy.
Guests travel to the area, stay at local hotels and eat at local restaurants. Sometimes they come back to the area to visit, or even to get married themselves.
According to Elka, the wedding business can help even out the season, because business stays strong after Easter, usually dipping only during the hottest summer months.
Still, Longboat Key faces challenges in the wedding business — specifically, fewer venues than Anna Maria Island. The gated Longboat Key Club & Resort is a popular spot for beachfront weddings, but Longboat’s beach is less wedding-friendly than Anna Maria Island’s. It has small hard-to-find accesses and limited parking.
Longboat residents have also been less-than-enthusiastic about events on the island. Restaurateur Ed Chiles recently withdrew a plan to restore the historic Rufus P. Jordan House and use the space for gatherings, including weddings, after receiving backlash from residents concerned about noise and parking.
The group, however, is working hard to promote the chapel as a potential wedding venue. According to Shuttleworth, in the past year, the church has renewed its focus on weddings.
The chapel currently includes wedding information on its website but is working to build a separate site devoted entirely to weddings. Currently, the chapel is the venue for approximately a dozen weddings per year; its goal is to get up to 50.
“The first question Laurie gets is, ‘Can you help me with catering? Where can I get my hair done?’” Shuttleworth said. “We’re trying to find the synergies, how we can all work together within the community. We are a location to have a wedding with a minister to officiate, but brides are looking for so much more.”
“What we’re trying to do is get the message out that Longboat Key is a great place to have a wedding,” Elka said.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].
To view spending charts of couples who wed in Manatee County and Sarasota County, click here.