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Hannah Liebow and Jeff Grimes were among many couples who postponed their 2020 wedding because of the pandemic.
What they didn’t expect was a second hurdle due to massive flooding from Tropical Storm Ida — or the generous efforts of fellow Philadelphians to help them pull off a fantastic celebration just a few days later.
As someone who works at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Liebow said she knew as early as that March that their 100-guest wedding planned for November wouldn’t happen.
The U.S. recorded about 40% fewer marriages last year compared with 2019, according to the Wedding Report, an industry research firm, as couples navigated safety restrictions on capacity, venue closings, supply-chain snafus, and unpredictable travel.
Liebow and Grimes, respectively 32 and 30 years old, had rescheduled their big day for the Saturday of Labor Day weekend this year. It was set to take place at Manayunk Brewing Company, overlooking the Schuylkill River.
On the Wednesday prior, Sept. 1, the remnants of Ida pummeled Philadelphia. The river swelled as rarely before, overflowing its banks.
“I’m up at 5 a.m. watching the news,” said Grimes, describing Thursday morning, when family was already headed to Philly for the big event. “The camera pans to Manayunk Brewing Company under water. I’m like, they aren’t going to be able to have anything there.”
Manayunk Brewing’s banquet and sales coordinator, Paris Rose-Antonogiannis, had warned them the night before it might happen.
The restaurant and venue was hit hard in August 2020 by Isaias, with cleanup taking about two weeks, Rose-Antonogiannis said. But Ida, which according to the National Weather Service swelled the Schuylkill in the city on Sept. 2 to its highest crest since October 1869, has felled the venue for much longer.
“With most of the hurricanes in my lifetime, we’ve been able to clean up within like a month,” said Rose-Antonogiannis, who started working at the family business when she was a teen and has been back for the last 6 years. “This is the first hurricane I’ve ever experienced where we’ve had to gut the entire restaurant and rebuild from scratch.”
The brew house is above flood level, and is covered by insurance, but the restaurant is not. The Manayunk Development Corporation, FEMA, and city agencies have helped with access to grants and other aid, Rose-Antonogiannis said. If the restaurant receives newly bought equipment on schedule, it expects to reopen the third week of November.
In addition to Grimes’ and Liebow’s, two other weddings had been scheduled at Manayunk Brewing Co. that weekend. Though couples understood it wasn’t her fault, Rose-Antonogiannis said it was hard delivering the news.
“You’re listening to these people’s plans and hopes and dreams for their wedding day,” she said. “How do you tell someone the day before or two days before, ‘Hey we’re gonna flood’?”
There was some crying on all sides. Then the planner got to work helping all the couples replan.
Though Liebow and Grimes would eventually get refunds, the couple had laid out over $30,000 for the entire affair. Where were they going to find another venue in 48 hours during a holiday weekend when businesses were still grappling with COVID-related staffing shortages and supply problems?
The couple, who live in Brewerytown, started making calls. Grimes, a longtime chef in the city, reached out to the friend who had actually encouraged them to start dating, back in 2015 when all three worked together at a restaurant at the Cira Centre in University City.
“I have the biggest ask,” said Grimes to their friend Greg LaBarbera, now general manager at Clementine’s Stable Cafe on North Broad.
Clementine’s, a second restaurant from the team behind Tela’s on Fairmount, had itself only opened in August 2020. Inside, it accommodates about 130 people and outside, 40-50. Because of capacity limits through the spring and summer, it had only hosted a few large events and had never hosted a wedding when Grimes made his emergency request.
Undaunted, LaBarbera checked the weekend’s bookings. There were only a few for Saturday evening, so he would be able to talk to the customers about moving them. Next he called the restaurant’s owners. It was a go. The couple’s wedding planner, Robin Jenkins of Brown Bird events, contacted all of the vendors and told them of the new wedding location.
One last hitch: Clementine’s lost power for a few hours the night before the wedding, as some pockets of the city continued to recover from the storm. It came back in time for brunch that morning, and LaBarbera exhaled.
The owners of Clementine’s Stable Cafe let the couple use an upstairs apartment as a kind of bridal suite, and the event took place on a sunny, 79-degree September Saturday that couldn’t have been more beautiful.
“It was stunning,” said Grimes. “The food was amazing. The service, everything.”
LaBarbera was bursting with pride. “You have to remember that it’s not the space or where everything is happening that’s going to define your wedding day and make your wedding special,” he said. “It’s the people.”