How We: Organized A SoHo Bookstore Wedding


The best planning advice you'll read all year (seriously)

Liz, Professional Cat-Herder & Randy, Raised by pugs

How We: Organized A SoHo Bookstore Wedding | A Practical Wedding

Planned Budget: $15,000 (before doing any research. Let’s take a moment to laugh hysterically at how realistically we assessed things.)

Actual Budget: $24,000 (including everything from apparel to our wedding album)

Number of Guests: 50

How We: Organized A SoHo Bookstore Wedding | A Practical Wedding

Where We Allocated The Most Funds

$16,000 ended up going to our venue, Housing Works. This included the space itself, the furniture, linens, and dishes, all of the food and alcohol (other than dessert, which we purchased separately and they were more than happy to plate), staff (they volunteer, so we tipped super heavily), the sound system to which we hooked up our iPod for the night, and the lights strung up across the balconies and scattered around the shelves. Although we didn’t hire a specialized wedding coordinator, Housing Works assigned us a captain, Josh Gregory, with whom we met several times before the wedding, and he was on-hand from 1PM to 1AM the day of to take deliveries, kick bookstore patrons out on time, organize setup, teach Liz’s little brother how to work the sound system, ensure our plates and glasses were always full, and generally be a total pleasure. A distant second in terms of dollar amount (but not of awesomeness), $4,500 went to our amazing photographer, Monica of Hart & Sol East, and her second shooter Ali, who were worth every penny and then some.

How We: Organized A SoHo Bookstore Wedding | A Practical Wedding

Where We Allocated The Least Funds

$0 went to flowers of any kind—we’re just not flower people. We had vague intentions of picking up SOME kind of a bouquet, at least, for Liz to carry down the aisle and hold in pictures, but forgot altogether on the day of. Liz made her headband/veil from materials bought on Etsy for $15. We made seating cards and menus out of Kraft paper, which entailed a lot of hours debating fonts, printing, and folding, but only about $20 of supplies. Our only decorations besides the lights and candles scattered around the bookstore were vintage New York postcards (some dated before the turn of the twentieth century!), which we collected on eBay for about $40 over the course of a month or two, and looked lovely scattered around the tables and going home in the pockets of guests. We repurposed any unused postcards as Save-the-Dates—we liked being able to handwrite and make them unique for each recipient. Liz’s dress was technically free—a sample for a never-produced style, gifted from her job at the time we got engaged—but cost $85 to clean and hem.

How We: Organized A SoHo Bookstore Wedding | A Practical Wedding

What Was Worth It

Not having flowers was completely the right decision for us—taking what would potentially have been either a huge budget line item or time investment off the table freed us up to put more financial and mental resources into the things we cared about most: the venue, music, food, and photography.

Housing Works was the only venue we considered—besides the fact that we met in a bookstore (now closed), that books are essentially a religion to both of us, and that the space itself is gorgeous (hello, walking down a spiral staircase “aisle”??), we felt it was important that a hundred percent of the profit from hosting our event went directly to their mission of providing services and safe housing to homeless New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS. We wouldn’t have felt right putting that same amount toward a random banquet hall. We ended up increasing our contract amount from $13,500 to $16,000 in order to close the store one hour earlier and add that hour to our total event time, which was probably the single best decision we could have made.

How We: Organized A SoHo Bookstore Wedding | A Practical WeddingHow We: Organized A SoHo Bookstore Wedding | A Practical Wedding

And, we can’t say it enough times—Monica was amazing to have in our corner. She arrived at our apartment at 11AM bearing coffee, started shooting unobtrusively while we got ready, spent the day walking with us from our Ditmas Park apartment to our SoHo venue (including a relaxed lunch with our best friend and officiant, where again she fit right in), corralled our families for portraits on the street, made herself a fly on the wall for the ceremony, boogied down with us on the dance floor, stole us away for a much-needed moment alone in the middle of the evening, and was still smiling when we hugged goodbye well after midnight. She is a superwoman and a wonderful human being, and we are so thankful that we hired her!

How We: Organized A SoHo Bookstore Wedding | A Practical Wedding

What Was Not Worth It

We were thoughtful about all of our financial decisions and ended up being happy with where we put our money (and where we didn’t). We do wish we had spent less time stressing about:

  • The playlist. What should have been a fun, collaborative project turned into the single biggest source of stress. In the end, we were both happy with the result, but we wasted way too much energy trying to make it “perfect.”
  • Whether Liz’s religious family would understand our decision to have a friend officiate a ceremony we helped to write. As it turned out, Liz’s family was not replaced by pod people—they understood perfectly the love that went into crafting our ceremony and how meaningful it was to us.
  • The weird mix of people. We are two fairly extreme introverts who make close friends rarely and slowly; our guest list was not one or two cohesive groups, but a person or two from various stages of each of our lives. Our guests ranged in age from five to seventy-five, and most had not met before the ceremony (with the exception of family members who obviously had met but, in some cases, had not seen each other for years). As it turned out, we underestimated the lubricating effect of a common purpose (plus alcohol, for those who imbibed): everyone was there for the same reason, was happy to be there, and our pictures show all of our beloved “strangers” talking, laughing, and dancing together as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
  • Whether it would be a “fun wedding.” We were in the middle of the best day of our lives (so far), and our euphoria lifted everyone along with us. Although we did have fun, it almost seems beside the point; it was just a great, great night.

How We: Organized A SoHo Bookstore Wedding | A Practical Wedding

A Few Things That Helped Us Along The Way

Liz is one of those people who moves money from checking to savings every week, without fail, and we started increasing the amount we put away once we decided to have a wedding, so we were lucky enough to be able to pay for everything we wanted ourselves. While none of our parents would have been likely to take over the planning process, we still felt that having financial control made us more comfortable really owning all our decisions. APW was probably our greatest resource in terms of advice, both logistical and emotional.

We created a giant Frankensteinian Google Doc based on APW’s Wedding Workbooks to keep track of everything from RSVPs, guest contact info, hotels/travel plans, gifts and thank you notes, vendor contacts/contracts/payment due dates, what had to get to the ceremony and who was responsible, and on and on. Vertex42′s budget spreadsheet was the starting point for our own budget (although we used it a little backwards: instead of coming up with a total number ahead of time and figuring out what to spend on each category based on a percentage of that whole, we simply tracked our spending as we went, considering every expenditure separately and asking ourselves what each item was worth to us).

How We: Organized A SoHo Bookstore Wedding | A Practical Wedding

My Best Practical Advice To My Planning Self

Decide two things as early as possible: who the wedding is for (you? your parents? your friends?), how you want to spend your wedding day (alone in contemplation? getting pampered with your bridal brigade? DIYing with a crowd of your chosen family?), and how much time and energy you want to spend making it all happen. Make all of your future decisions with those first three choices in mind.

Divide and conquer the planning according to interest level; anything that neither partner cares enough to work on, cross it off the list. Anything that can be done ahead of time, do. Anything that isn’t done by the day before, let go of—it obviously wasn’t as much of a priority as you thought. Don’t choose clothing that makes you feel breakable, immobile, or in any way uncomfortable. Don’t over schedule the day, dividing hours into increments and filling them all; leave the hours open to spend eating, or playing with the cats, or walking hand in hand with your love. Decide that nothing, not sound system snafu nor stubborn pimple, will ruin your day.

Last but not least, don’t let wedding planning take over your life. Keep doing all the things you enjoyed together before. Remember the point of all this.

How We: Organized A SoHo Bookstore Wedding | A Practical Wedding

Favorite Thing About The Wedding

Spending the day together. Liz’s mom tearing up as she read Robert Hershon’s “Superbly Situated,” Liz going over to comfort her and instead breaking down in actual sobs, holding onto Mom until the poem was finished. Hearing each other speak aloud the vows that we wrote together. Hearing our best friend pronounce us married and lead the room in a shout of “So say we all!” Goofy sing-alongs on the dance floor. Having all our people in one place at one time.

How We: Organized A SoHo Bookstore Wedding | A Practical Wedding

Anything Else You Want To Add?

No one cares about any of this as much as you do. They won’t realize, or won’t remember tomorrow, that you didn’t make welcome bags for their hotel rooms; that your veil is held on with safety pins; that your face is shiny or your cowlick sticking up; that you meant to make cute little labels for the cupcake flavors, but forgot; that you put too many songs on the playlist, so the last dance ended up being 50 Cent’s “Hate It Or Love It.” They will remember how ridiculously in love you looked, how excited, how thrilled to see them.

Also, if at all possible, if it’s okay in your values system, the first thing you should do on the morning of your wedding day is have sex with your spouse-to-be. We seriously cannot overemphasize this.

How We: Organized A SoHo Bookstore Wedding | A Practical Wedding


The Info:

Photographer: Monica of Hart & Sol East APW Sponsor | Location: New York, NY | Venue: Housing Works | Liz’s Shoes: Ivanka Trump “Elkie” | Randy’s Suit: Vintage, from eBay | Bow Tie and Pocket Square: The Tie Bar | Invitations: Etsy | Wedding Cake: Junior’s | Wedding cupcakes, for the heathens who don’t like cheesecake: Molly’s | Necklace: Etsy | Wedding bands: We both chose simple silver rings from Etsy— his and hers

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  • Claire

    Wow! What a wedding! And I was nodding along with all the excellent, excellent advice. All of it.

  • Kat91314

    Love the HW bookstore……the first time I walked in there, I fell in love with the whole place. And to get married there? Soo jealous of you guys! Congrats, and I wish you a long and healthy life together filled with many many books :-)

  • http://www.photobox-blog.com/2013/04/joan-francis-cambridge-ontario-wedding.html JMC

    Amazing advice, gorgeous wedding! Thanks so much for sharing:)

  • Hannah B

    Love that space and it looks so fun! Did you ask your lady guests to wear a shade of blue? Or did all of your nearest and dearest magically and effortlessly coordinate to look awesome in the group photo (which would have been awesome regardless)? I might just choose to believe it was wedding magic :-)

    • NicoleT

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one who noticed that! I was definitely staring at that picture and wondering :)

      • Liz (since 1982)

        I didn’t give any dress-code direction beyond “medium fancy” (except to my mom, who needed a bit more hand-holding). I actually expected more warm-toned/fall-colored outfits, but I’m guessing a combination of our guests’ personal coloring/preferences and the fact that we were smack in the midst of Pantone’s Emerald color-of-the-year led to a lot of blue/green outfits being purchased. I had the exact same reaction when I saw the group photo!

  • Christina Cusolito

    Wow. The wedding story is amazing, but the writing is phenomenal. Bravo! Also, what is a professional cat wrangler??? So curious.

    • Liz (since 1982)

      I manage projects! Making sure all the pieces come together on time while having no actual people-managing authority isn’t ACTUALLY herding cats, but definitely feels like it :)

  • MC

    Ahhhhhh, tears of joy while reading this!!! If we were having a small wedding a bookstore would be my DREAM venue (and meeting in a bookstore – cutest meet-cute ever!). And the advice and writing is so, so good. Amazing way to start a Friday!

    And also, why do we think we can make a budget before doing any research?? Fiance and I did the same thing, and have to keep reminding ourselves that the original budget was based on *nothing* so it’s totally okay that it has basically doubled.

    • macrain

      It is completely, frustratingly impossible to research a wedding budget. I attempted to and failed- most places refused to give me a quote without a date and venue. I’m like, okay, so how the hell am I supposed to know what ANY of this costs?! Worst.

      • Lisa

        I spent SO much time looking through blogs like Budget Savvy Bride and other web-sites to get an idea of what spaces cost to rent/how much catering might be/anything else I could find a price tag for.

        It’s incredibly frustrating to get pricing ideas when no one will post anything on-line. Not all of us have unlimited budgets and can be guided by what we think is awesome or pretty.

    • ART

      Yeah, my new advice to engaged couples is “If you want to plan a $5k wedding, plan a $3k wedding” :)

  • EF

    heehee, thoroughly enjoying the emphasis of dan savage’s wedding advice: you’ll be too tired later/afterwards, so get it on in the morning.

    seriously beautiful and lots of great advice. thanks, and congrats!

  • http://rationalcreature.com/ Amy

    I want to just pin this whole post on my fridge where I can see it every day. SO much good advice. I’m taking notes.

  • macrain

    I was a bridesmaid in a wedding at Housing Works, and I can’t say enough about the venue. Their staff is incredible. Only now that I’m planning my own wedding do I realize what a feat it was for them to keep everything running as seamlessly as they did. No DOC needed! I think it’s a wonderful option for NYC brides who don’t want to pay through the nose but want to have dancing at their reception (due to space constraints, dancing is not always possible at NYC weddings on a budget).
    Also can someone tell my fiance to get that print for me as a wedding gift? Because I’m in love with it!

    • Liz (since 1982)

      I forgot to include the print source in the credits, but it can be found on Etsy!

      • http://karenmadrone.wordpress.com/ Karen

        Thank you! Just ordered it. Woohoo!

  • Kayjayoh

    Beautiful! I love the red stockings.

    • Sarah E

      Right? Those TIGHTS.

      • Liz (since 1982)

        Thigh highs :D I’m 99% sure I got them on Sock Dreams. If I hadn’t worn some flavor of non-flesh-toned socks or tights, I wouldn’t have felt like myself!

  • Emily

    After reading this post, I can finally envision the perfect start to our wedding day: a sleepy, joyful sunrise romp in the sheets, and a long walk with coffee, before parting to begin our preparations.

    …daydreaming at my desk….

    • Emily

      Tons of fantastic advice, but that was definitely my most profound takeaway. Thank you for sharing your insight, Liz!

  • Mezza

    “Superbly Situated”! We had that as a reading at our wedding as well, not least because we are also NYC-ers and the bits of New York in the poem meant a lot to us.

    What a great venue, also. I wouldn’t even have known that Housing Works does weddings! (And what is a professional cat-herder and how do I become one? Are they literal cats?)

  • sara g

    ahhhh I love the BSG reference! I’m trying to convince my fiance we should do that at our wedding :)
    Such a beautiful wedding! Best wishes to you both!

    • Karie

      Me too! May the Lords of Kobol bless you with a long and happy life together!

  • Tara

    This is so, so beautiful. I met my husband at this Housing Works bookstore (at the publishing industry party Gin Mingle, no less), and if we hadn’t had our wedding in his mother’s backyard in Arizona, then we would have had it there and couldn’t have created a more beautiful wedding than you! Congratulations!! You look ecstatic.

  • Katherine

    A large part of the inspiration for my wedding (outside Chicago) was a friend’s wedding at Housing Works. I loved it. :)

  • http://cafeaubride.blogspot.com/ Catherine

    I am so in love with this!!!

  • NicoleT

    This wedding looked awesome in every respect, from organization to the partying! Thank you so much for taking the time to write a truly informative article. I’ll definitely be coming back to this!

  • Heather

    This was a great post! Really down to earth advice. We also love books and had our engagement photos in a bookstore… My fiancé and I planned to wake up and have breakfast together the morning of our wedding and we both thought what better time than that to have sex?! We won’t be exhausted from the days activities and we will be excited for all the upcoming moments of the day! Thanks for the advice and I wish you and your husband all the best!

  • Liz (since 1982)

    OH MY GOSH YOU GUYS. This is my wedding! So excited to see it on APW and relive such an awesome day. I’m chiming in to answer questions as I see them but wanted to just shout a generalized thank you to everyone for all the kind words!

    • Laura

      My question is, where did that lovely print come from? (“I’m so happy we both showed up here”) It is so lovely.

  • KC

    I love the sweet fastening-on-the-necklace shot… with a Dalek standing by. :-)

    (also: bookstore wedding! Awesome!)

  • Guest

    My question is, where did that beautiful print come from? I love it!

    • Liz (since 1982)

      Etsy :)

  • http://www.smittenchickens.com/ Sarah Hoppes

    LOVE this! Love all your advice!!!!!!! (Especially the pre-wedding sex bit. I don’t feel like enough people are brave enough to say that publicly, but it’s damn good advice.)

    Also, we have that NY state print in blue, and it’s one of our favorite wedding gifts.

  • Laura

    I rarely have tears during a “how we did it” post, but how could I not this time? “don’t let wedding planning take over your life. Keep doing all the things you enjoyed together before. Remember the point of all this.”

    Wise words. Thank you for letting us share the joy of your day!

  • Stacie

    OMG. This. Is. Stunning. I *really* wanted to get married at Housing Works!! But unfortunately, the ceremony setup just would not have worked for our guest list of 80. I’m still pouting about it.

    Now, how to work in some wedding-morning nookie… ::goes off to conspire::

  • Lisa

    We also had our wedding at the Housing Works Bookstore and I cannot say enough good things about it! The staff were helpful, friendly, knowledgeable and all-around amazing, the food was delicious and the price was reasonable.

    Like Liz, I also had an original budget of around $15,000 in mind (ha!). I was a broke grad student at the time who had just moved to NYC, so I was a bit (and at times willfully) naive about the costs if things in the city. We had just over 100 guests and ended up spending around $35,000 all together. So editors, if you want to see another Soho bookstore wedding, I’m all yours.

  • Corinne

    I think I’ve fallen in love with your wedding! :) The whole vibe is so close to what my fiance and I have been planning, from the getting ready together, to the walk across town, to the size of the party. So first of all, thanks for showing what it can look like and sharing so many details about your day!

    Our photographer will also be able to help with this question, but I was wondering: how much extra time did you build in for photo-taking on your walk from your apartment to your venue?

    • Liz (since 1982)

      So sorry to respond to this so late, I missed it somehow! The walk we took would ordinarily have been about 3 hours and we planned to basically double it (figuring that we’d rather have time to kill than be rushing). As it turned out, we wouldn’t have needed to build in SO much extra, but we loved that it gave us the chance to take it slow and enjoy the day. The timeline went something like:

      11am: A few getting-ready photos at our apartment

      11:30am: Start walking; meander through neighborhood and Prospect Park
      1pm: Meet bestie/officiant for lunch
      3pm: Start walking again; wander into Dumbo, cross the Manhattan Bridge, cut up through Soho
      4:30pm: Check in at Housing Works; fix hair, change shoes, etc.
      5:00pm: Family meetup at Housing Works; family photos around the neighborhood
      5:30, 45ish?: Back to Housing Works to help with what little setup we had to do (basically, scattering postcards, placing table numbers, setting up the guest book and escort cards).

      6:30: Head up to the balcony for quiet time with parents
      7:00: Doors open for guests

      Leaving lunch out of it, we probably would have been pretty safe if we’d added one hour rather than three. Part of that is because we didn’t do too much stopping-and-posing along the way, since both of us get awkward FAST when sitting still – Monica basically just paparazzi’d us as we did our thing, with only a few pauses at special spots we especially wanted documented. If you’re planning on more traditional-style posed photos, definitely take that into account and maybe plan for an extra 90 minutes? A good photographer won’t need tons of time to capture great images, so the most important thing is making sure YOU don’t feel rushed!

      Hope that is helpful!

  • Kelsey

    I love all of this so much. Books are my religion too! I very much wanted to get married at the library (I’ve worked with them for events for various non profit events before) but they would not yield on their ‘weddings are the only event we do not work with’ policy…Best wishes to you both!