Wedding Woes

November 13, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Dozens of Valley newlyweds have contacted Action News saying their day of bliss almost went bust because wedding vendors didn't deliver on promised goods or services. David and Crystal Ciccarelli had a picture perfect October wedding in Northwest Fresno. Crystal, an aspiring wedding planning professional, spent months planning her own big day, down to the last detail."I stuck with old-schools vendors, people that have really good reputations."

But their fairytale wedding almost didn't happen. Just three months before the wedding day, their original caterer revealed they had to relocate the reception to a place that wasn't on the contract.

"It was pretty shocking, when I heard that, I thought it was a joke, pretty devastating, your heart's into it, it's the most personal thing you do in your life," said Crystal Ciccarelli.

Crystal and Dave say they did everything right; got referrals, checked reputations, and made sure everything was in writing. But they were still left feeling unprotected. "It seemed like they just got away with what happened, and didn't really care somebody needs to be accountable for that and their actions."

Many industries, from contractors to car repair, have regulations or licensing requirements, but for most wedding service providers, there aren't any.

The wedding industry is a big business. The Association for Wedding Professionals International reports the average wedding costs around $30,000 dollars.

The recent premier bride showplace at Fresno's Convention Center featured more than 100 vendors selling everything from cake to couture. The Better Business Bureau says regulating such a diverse industry is unlikely and impractical.

"It's not specific enough where they could tie down any type of competency. The hall or church you're having the wedding in, the florist that's gonna be delivering the flowers, the musicians that are gonna be playing the music, all those folks are unregulated," said Doug Broten with the Better Business Bureau.

That's something former clients of Photographer Starlene Todd of Storyteller Images in Clovis felt was so frustrating.

"What other industry can people take your money and not deliver a product, that's ridiculous, and continue operating a business?" said Briana Van Der Schaaf of Visalia.

Van Der Schaaf and nearly two dozen other clients say they paid Todd thousands of dollars for pictures and albums they never received. Action News tracked down Todd and she refused comment.

Her former clients say they started getting their images when the Fresno County District Attorney's Financial Crimes Division finally stepped in.

The Better Business Bureau says in the absence of any protections, buyer beware. "You wait until you get your product to make the final payments. It makes an awful lot of sense. The photographer has to do some work up front but you shouldn't have to pay everything up front because the person could just go south," said Broten.

But most wedding vendors require up to a 50-percent deposit to secure their services and full payment before the wedding day.

The San Francisco-based Wedding Industry Professionals Association (WIPA) says that's necessary because many vendors invest a lot of time and incur costs even before the big day.

President Joyce Scardina Becker recommends hiring WIPA members because they adhere to strict standards. "The requirement is a minimum of three years in the industry, you must have a business license, you must have insurance."

Scardina Becker says she opposes any state regulation but says WIPA is working on its own certification program based on knowledge, integrity and quality.

That's a vow Crystal says she will keep with her future clients, so they can start their married lives for richer, not poorer.

Members of the Central Valley Bridal Association tell Action News most local wedding vendors are hard-working small businesses who do everything possible to make their customers happy. And that a few bad businesses do not reflect on the industry as a whole.

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