Aja and Ray Gordon are celebrating their first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. Ahead of the big day, Aja had pretty good ideas of her non-negotiables. She Googled “small, intimate, indoor weddings.”
Enter the Penn Museum, home of quick weekday weddings for a very reasonable $500. Called the Simple and Sweet, the deal comes with a few restrictions: There’s a 45-minute time limit, the bride and groom can’t have more than 35 guests, and the offer is only available between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. But there are several galleries and meeting spaces to choose from — the Gordons picked the Egypt Lower Gallery, which features the museum’s star sphinx and pillars excavated from the throne room of the palace of Merenptah. Considering that the average Philadelphia wedding costs $44,000, per The Knot, this deal is an intriguing alternative to City Hall.
Atiya German, Penn Museum’s director of facility rentals and creator of the Simple and Sweet, isn’t sure that the word is really out on this deal yet. There have been roughly 50 of these ceremonies since 2013 when she launched it, the Gordons’ December 17 nuptials being the most recent.
“Three years ago, I had a bride reach out to me and ask if she could get married in the Museum during the day,” German explains in an email. “She said it would be just her, her husband to be and their parents. I was a bit hesitant, because we had never had a wedding ceremony like that before in the Museum. After contemplating it, I said ‘Sure.’
“While I watched the couple take pictures, I had an ‘aha’ moment. I said to myself, ‘This isn’t such a bad idea.’ I could offer a smaller wedding option to potential clients at an affordable price.”
‘Anybody we would invite to Thanksgiving’
A Thursday, 2:30 p.m. wedding is not for everyone and makes for quite the unusual invitation.
“There one was one person, my Aunt Shelly, who was like, ‘Oh, I love that place! Oh my goodness, it’s so beautiful up there!!’” Gordon recalls. “Everybody else was confused. They didn’t get it.”
Aja had to take Ray to see the place twice. “He’s visual; I mean, he’s a man,” she says. After that, he was sold; they’d jump the broom there. A traditional wedding with a full reception hadn’t always been out of the question, though.
“See here’s the thing, we did consider it. But what happened was: That wasn’t us,” she says. “I told him, anybody that we would invite to Thanksgiving dinner, I think should be here. Anybody else, I think, is excessive.”
German says that couples in this package aren’t often swayed to the more flexible Friday-to-Sunday options. “We’ll sometimes have a couple call and ask about having a Simple and Sweet wedding on a Friday, but when we discuss pricing and other details with them, they will change their mind and make it work during the week,” she writes.
But don’t let the $500 price tag fool you. Aja says they spent approximately $15,000 on the wedding and the honeymoon. How? The champagne toast, a live harpist, the cake, the dress, the tux, a rented Rolls Royce and a night at the Hotel Monaco… Let’s just say things added up.
“It was never a financial problem,” she says. To do it more traditionally, for them, “the only difference would’ve been to spend the extra $10,000 or $15,000 to have a party so people could drink and eat. And it’s like, nah, that doesn’t make sense.”
Aja, 35, is an insurance sales manager. Ray, 38, owns a commercial cleaning company. They met when she hired him three years ago. They have three children: Her 11-year old daughter was the maid of honor, his then 13-year old son was the best man, and Ray’s sister held their then seventh-month-old. They had time for a first dance, so they relieved the harpist and put on “Never Too Much.”
“[N]ot all couples want or can afford a large, full building wedding,” says German in an email. She calls the Simple and Sweet “just as beautiful.” “We don’t have as many [of these ceremonies] as we’d like or can accommodate,” she writes, adding they hope for more in 2016.
The room the couple selects is reserved. But it’s still visiting hours after all. Before Aja said her vows, she spotted a huge group of kids, “looked like about 60,” on a school trip. She says they instantly cheered for her— they screamed; they applauded; they shouted things like, “You look beautiful!” Aja loved that.