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The costs, demands, and stress of putting on a good celebration loomed as the wedding of Jenny Baron and Alan Dowdall (pictured) drew closer last year. The California couple had already called off their marriage a year before when the Coast Guard abruptly transferred Alan from San Francisco to New London, Connecticut, and this year the show just had to go on. They wanted to get married back home in Santa Barbara, but the pair was a bit short on savings, and having a one‑year‑old son did not facilitate the matter.

“I really, really wanted a nice wedding,” said Jenny, “and I wanted to be able to include all our friends and family. But the way it usually is, you’re looking at starting off your married life with a $30,000 loan and all this debt. Basically we were already broke.”

Like any sensible bride, Jenny studied up ahead of time for the event. She looked through magazines and sought out all the latest ideas, stunts, trends, and fashions that might make the wedding all the more fabulous — but such whims and fancies cost money. Jenny heard of photographers who charge $4,000 for a session of snapshots and she saw floral bouquets advertised at $800 each. The food alone threatened to devour $12,000. “And that wasn’t even including the alcohol, servers, or the plates and utensils. It was already double our savings.”

Then, in the pages of a spring issue of Modern Bride magazine, Jenny read an article that inspired her to abandon the traditional route toward marriage, debt, and the poorhouse. The story described several elaborate weddings that the bride and groom had pulled off while hardly spending a buck by exchanging complimentary catering, photography, and various decorations for simple publicity: They acknowledged each service in their wedding speeches, they placed contact cards and subtle advertisements around the wedding grounds, and they offered free seating for the representatives of each business.

Jenny decided that she and Alan needed to do the same, but her family, friends, and fiancé deeply doubted the idea. Why, they asked, would any viable business involve itself in such a scheme? Impossible! “Well, if they wrote an article about it in Modern Bride,” Jenny pointed out, “it must be possible.”

So she went to work. She emailed hundreds of Santa Barbara‑area businesses, requesting voluntary contributions to the wedding and promising in return advertising, publicity, and a boosted reputation in the eyes of the many impressed guests. Jenny also contacted several newspapers with the hope that a wedding feature on her and Alan’s big day would further entice vendors to surrender their goods and services.

In the month of May came the first positive response. Amy Hayes with La Bohème Massage gave Jenny and Alan an open offer for a five‑hour “lovers’ massage” package on the house; then, when Sugar bakery called back and said it would throw in the cake, even the skeptics agreed that Jenny’s plan seemed to be moving smoothly forward. Yet, to make the arrangements from across the continent would not have been possible without help from Jenny’s correspondents in Santa Barbara. “My mom and my friends were a gigantic help,” she said. “They had to taste food, find table linens, folding chairs, and glasses, and my mom arranged the lanterns for the outdoor lighting and delivered the ice. She orchestrated everything.” By mid August five different businesses had signed up to bring life to the marriage of Jenny and Alan. The roster included the Santa Barbara Catering Company, Sugar bakery for the cake, Music by Bonnie for the deejay services, and Deborah Weinstein, the volunteer photographer.

Alan and Jenny got married on October 29, 2005 at Elings Park. The location held special meaning for Jenny. She had grown up in a house adjacent to the park, and its grassy expanses had been her childhood playground, the scene of her first kiss, and the location of her dad’s marriage 20 years before. Now, on her own wedding day, the skies were clear and blue after a week of rain. At the mild risk of tainting the wedding with the ambience of a local business expo, Jenny and Alan set up tables where each company rep could offer literature and advertising material, but it all came off very gracefully, said Jenny. The vendors did not schmooze with the crowd as potential clients, but just as guests at a wedding. “To be honest, I hardly knew they were there,” recalled Jenny. “They blended right in and just had a good time.”

While the 3 p.m. ceremony proceeded, the Santa Barbara Catering Company cooked and prepared the meal on location. The food was Mexican, and over two barbecue pits the cooks grilled tequila chicken and carne asada. They served the meal buffet‑style on a white linen tablecloth amid floral decorations. As the officiant pronounced Alan Dowdall and Jenny Baron husband and wife, the caterers laid out flour tortillas and the taco fillings, and they stocked the bar with all the margaritas and tequila that 120 guests could require.

Meanwhile, Sugar bakery’s cake was an intricate, mountain‑shaped project consisting of more than 100 carrot cupcakes layered on a five‑tiered frame which tapered skyward to the summit. Candied plaques had been lodged onto each cupcake and adorned with French words of love that glowed in the sunshine. Beautiful though it was, the cake was the source of the wedding’s one mishap. When Alan smeared Jenny’s face with the cake as convention demands, the blood‑red frosting tumbled down the front of her white dress, forever staining the family heirloom with detergent‑proof food coloring. “Every bride wears a white dress,” sighed Jenny. “I just assumed what they put in the cake was something that would wash out.”

The Dowdall’s honeymoon in Maui was free — a communal gift from their guests — and the total cost of the wedding came out to $6,000, a savings of untold thousands more. But the wedding dress … oh, the wedding dress. Ablitt’s Fine Cleaners dry‑cleaned out most of the stain for $200, but a pink blush still remains down the front side. “I don’t think anyone’s going to wear it again,” said Jenny. She said it will remain in the family, though, folded away somewhere and faintly marked with the coloring of Sugar bakery and the sweetness of a wedding that was almost free.

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