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April 25, 2020

Chapel offers an alternative for virus-canceled weddings

Photo/Ciao Bella Celebrations
Because of the pandemic, Anna and Bryce Cole married March 21 at Ciao Bella in Warrenton rather than New Orleans.
Photo/Don Del Rosso
Wedding photographers, Mona McLinden and her husband Dan opened the Warrenton chapel and celebration venue in January 2017.
File Photo/Lawrence Emerson
Dan McLinden serves as a wedding officiant, as he did here for Anne Fernandi and Mike King at Warrenton’s LOVE sculpture unveiling in September 2018.
We’ve have many couples that are turning to us because they’ve had to cancel other plans — for instance, destination weddings — because of the (coronavirus) restrictions.
— Ciao Bella co-owner Mona McLinden
Ciao Bella Celebrations
• What: Wedding chapel, reception venue, with food, beverages, photography and a trolley.

• Where: 18 Ashby St., Warrenton.

• Owners: Dan and Mona McLinden

• Phone: 540-349-0035

• Website: www.sweetandsimpleweddings.com

• Facebook: Click here
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The Northern Virginia couple planned to elope and exchange vows March 24 in New Orleans.

But COVID-19 put the kibosh on that, recalled Anna Cole, who lives with her husband Bryce and their two children in Oakton.

In late February, Mrs. Cole, 32, lost her job as a human resources manager with a telecommunications company because of the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Coles decided to go ahead with their marriage plans, partly because she needed health insurance and would get it through her husband’s company plan. Mr. Cole, 42, serves as CEO of Paul Bakery in Washington, D.C.

So the couple moved quickly to explore alternatives.

As it turned out, they got married March 21 — three days before the planned New Orleans date — at Ciao Bella Celebrations at 18 Ashby St. in downtown Warrenton.

Mrs. Cole learned of Ciao Bella through a Facebook moms’ group.

“We’ve have many couples that are turning to us because they’ve had to cancel other plans — for instance, destination weddings — because of the (coronavirus) restrictions” that limit groups to a maxim 10 people or otherwise complicate arrangements, Ciao Bella co-owner Mona McLinden said.

Weddings comprise about 90 percent of Ciao Bella’s business, Mrs. McLinden said. Other events at the storefront venue include marriage vows renewals and bridal and baby showers.

The package Mrs. McLinden put together for the Coles cost almost $600 and included use of the Ciao Bella’s onsite “Little Wedding Chapel,” photographs, cupcakes and a scenic ride on the business’s period trolley for the party of five.

The couple’s trip to New Orleans, along with a stop in Panama City, Fla., to attend a friend’s wedding, would have cost about $5,000, Mrs. Cole said.

“We were definitely devastated” that plans for their New Orleans’ elopement collapsed, she said. “We had this whole secret. It was just going to be me and him.”

But under the circumstances, things ultimately went well, she added.

“They did a phenomenal job,” Mrs. Cole said of Ciao Bella. “I was skeptical at first. I have very high expectations. The more I talked to Mona, she reassured me I was going to get what I needed. They went above and beyond for us. And they did it in a small time frame.”

Mrs. McLinden, 61, typically photographs weddings. Her husband Dan, 55, also a photographer, conducts the ceremonies in addition to his full-time job as a software manager.

Wedding package fees range from $150 for “Just The Two of You” to $1,250 for a “Lakeside Intimate Wedding.”

Mr. McLinden also processes marriage license documents for $50. Ciao Bella’s proximity to the courthouse helps its wedding business, with military couples and others with complex schedules or logistical challenges often using its services.

And, the county government-owned Warren Green Building and grounds just across from Ciao Bella provide a pretty setting for exterior photographs, Mrs. McLinden said.

“You take someone up there in a wedding gown and everything looks like they’re at a big, expensive venue,” she said.

The McLindens in August conducted their 400th wedding since opening the venue in 2017. Last year, the couple hosted 231 weddings.

As with most of the economy, the pandemic has done financial havoc to Ciao Bella.

The owners estimate that first-quarter revenue for 2020 declined 43.7 percent compared to the same period last year. For 2019’s first quarter, Ciao Bella generated about $32,000 versus $18,000 for January through March of this year, according to Mrs. McLinden.

Still, Ciao Bella hosted 59 weddings during this year’s first quarter compared to about 45 for the same period of 2019.

The 10-person maximum for gatherings during the pandemic wiped out a big part of the revenue stream, including trolley rides for up to 14 and receptions for as many as 25, Mrs. McLinden said.

For 2019, Ciao Bella’s revenue totaled about $150,000, she said.

The McLindens, who started the business about three years ago as wedding photographers, think that Ciao Bella could make a strong comeback.

“We sort of feel like (business) may really pick up once the (COVID-19) restrictions are lifted,” she said.

The couple believes Ciao Bella’s model will hold its own, even with continued economic “uncertainty,” Mrs. McLinden suggested.

“People still want to get married and have it a little festive,” she said. “But they don’t want to spend the money it takes to do a full, big wedding. People are just scared to spend that $20,000, $30,000 on a wedding.”

But families seem every bit as grateful for simple ceremonies, Mrs. McLinden said.

Robecca Weilmuenster, 40, works as a financial analyst in the Warrenton office of Greystone, a big Manhattan-based real estate services company.

Her husband Matthew Weilmuenster, 45, works as an IT engineer for a technology consultant in Centreville.

The coronavirus crisis upended their plans for a May 5 wedding at Ciao Bella that would have included appetizers and a mimosa bar more than 20 family members and friends.

The couple, who live near Marshall, rescheduled the ceremony to take place April 9 at the Ashby Street venue.

To conform to the coronavirus restriction that limits gatherings to 10 people, only the couple’s children from previous marriages attended the wedding. Mrs. Weilmuenster has a daughter. Mr. Weilmuenster has two children.

The couple and guests will meet Sept. 5 at Ciao Bella for appetizers, mimosas and additional photos, Mrs. Weilmuenster said. The package for both days will cost them $795.

The original wedding date also called for reception at the Farm Brewery at Broad Run in Prince William County. That won’t happen because brewery has the place reserved for other events on Sept. 5.

Instead, the Weilmuensters that day will host a dinner for guests elsewhere.

“We were disappointed” the original wedding day plan didn’t materialize as designed, she said. “But it turned out to be really great. We got to have a nice, special day with just our kids.”

Contact Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or 540-270-0300.
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Jennie · April 27, 2020 at 10:05 pm
@Jerome I buried both of my parents in 2019, 6 months apart and both were cremated. $5000.00 for each of the cremations. (I googled this)
Most people assume that they have to employ the services of a funeral director to conduct a funeral but there is no law requiring you to do so in Virginia. You can conduct your own home funeral if you so wish. You would need to file the death certificate and apply for the burial or cremation permit.
Mark House · April 27, 2020 at 5:52 pm
This wedding venue makes so much sense. Save your money to pay off student loans or a down payment on some property.
Linda Ward · April 27, 2020 at 8:41 am
AngryBob - I want my ashes dumped in the hole where a tree, preferably a Magnolia, has been planted. Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust.
AngryBob · April 27, 2020 at 8:36 am
@Jerome: I had to pay for a "cremation casket" for both of my parents. They were like $500, and I never even saw them. When I die, I want my family to take my body out in the woods and dump it. Let the animals eat me. I've been eating them all this time - it's only fair.
Jennie · April 26, 2020 at 10:30 pm
We got married last September. Mona and Dan handled everything. We had our ceremony at the Old Jail House in Warrenton and our reception at Alwyngton Manor. Dan was our officiant, he also drove the Cio Bella trolley that picked all of our guests up at the hotels, took us to the ceremony, the reception and our guests back to the hotel. Mona was our photographer and our wedding coordinator. That took a lot of responsibility off my plate as we were also moving near the time of our wedding. I was impressed with the service as well as the cost. I do highly recommend hiring Cio Bella when things are back to normal.
Jerome Fields · April 26, 2020 at 9:23 am
$30,000 is an excellent down payment on a house.
Jerome Fields · April 26, 2020 at 9:22 am
The funeral industry is a scam too. $10,000-$15,000 for a casket to only be buried in the ground, and some states require that casket be put into a vault, another $3,000 - $5,000. Cremation is the way to go in a container that decomposes in time.
AngryBob · April 24, 2020 at 3:06 pm
This is an excellent idea. The whole wedding industry is a scam. Don't let them con you out of $30k+. Don't start out a marriage broke or in debt. There is no reason a wedding should be so expensive.

There's a 75% chance you'll end up divorced anyways. Let that be the expensive part. And you know why it's so expensive? Because it's WORTH IT.
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