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April 22, 2014 at 12:00 am

Barns are the New Banquet Hall: Capitalizing on Wedding Trends to Benefit Maine’s Economy

Barns as wedding venues have a growing appeal in the nuptials market. Popular wedding website theknot.com verifies this national trend, noting that “barns and farm settings … help drive that rustic chic style that’s so hot right now.” Adding to the boom, particularly in Maine, is the legalization of gay marriage; thousands of affluent gay couples are traveling to Maine, one of the only states in the Northeast that has legalized gay marriage. Couple that with a projected increase in overall spending on weddings and tourism (a 2009 report by the Williams Institute at UCLA estimated a $60 million boost), it seems that a few prescient local developers have positioned their properties to take advantage.

For instance, siblings Anthony and Jill Fratianne have recently created Granite Ridge Estate & Barn, a new luxury wedding and event venue in Norway, Maine. The centerpiece of the property located in the state’s western foothills is a 3500 square foot timber-framed barn. In addition, a luxury estate lodge located on 128 acres includes view of Mt. Washington and its own [smaller] mountain, designated “Holt Hill” on the Maine Delorme Gazetteer.

The Fratiannes also own and operate Maine market-rate apartments and a manufactured housing community. Their decision to develop the barn property was a logical extension of their existing Maine real estate holdings. In building their business plan, the Fratiannes listened to people who attended weddings and events at other barn venues and tried to incorporate their feedback into the project.

Adequate space for large weddings was among the requirements. As such, Granite Ridge’s barn is functional for events with up to 220 guests. Another key consideration was privacy. Many venues need to shut down by 10:00 PM due to local noise ordinances, but given that Granite Ridge is located on 128 acres, that’s not an issue.

In addition to the Fratiannes, other entrepreneurs are getting in on the action. “Many of our wedding guests were from out of town, and were a bit skeptical when we asked them to join us in a couple of barns,” said Kelsey Goldsmith, who got married in 2011 at Stone Mountain Arts Center’s two timber frame barns in Brownfield, Maine.  “But, the inside was so magical and sweet, elegant without being over the top. Everyone raved, relaxed and had a great time.” Stone Mountain is typically a music venue, but reserves a few weekends each year for weddings, which is a growing line of business and particularly lucrative for the property owners.

The Black Tie Company, a well-regarded Maine wedding provider and property owner has also found success in this emerging market. “Barn weddings are exceedingly popular and primarily attract those from out-of-state,” noted Black Tie’s Madeline Littlefield. “The rustic nature of the barns can be quite glamorous, yet is a departure from the city that they’re used to.”

The trend really started during the 2011-2012 wedding season, according to Littlefield, and that it’s only grown since then. As a result, Black Tie has made a recent investment in barn properties, owning many and serving as exclusive caterer for a handful of others. “Barn weddings are some of the company’s most profitable,” Littlefield concluded.

Categories: Maine Real Estate Insider