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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

South Asian weddings come at a high price: $50,000

Sharda Shenoy, one of the owners of Elegant Affairs in Fairfield, shows off one of the showrooms at her business on Saturday. Her business specializes in upscale weddings and floral arrangements.

Monica Sangani and Rajat Gupta, 26-year-old business school students from New York, are planning a June wedding.

They've booked a hall -- Headquarters Plaza in Morristown -- and are soon traveling to India to buy clothing. They've picked a decorator -- Elegant Affairs in Fairfield -- and eventually will select a caterer.

A few decisions remain. For instance, do they want a horse at the wedding?

The high-end South Asian wedding industry, where the average wedding costs $50,000, is marked by opulence. Grand floral centerpieces on every table, elaborate stage decorations with Roman columns, and shiny drapes, spotlights, and concert-ready audio equipment are the norm.

The vendors of these and other wedding-centric accessories will show off their wares in a bridal showcase next Sunday at the Sheraton in Parsippany.

It's a small, close-knit group of merchants who cater to affluent South Asian families who want their children's weddings lavished with things like green-petal floral arrangements shaped like elephants.

That happens to be one of the decorations that Montville's Sharda Shenoy designed in two decades in the business.

Shenoy, the owner of Elegant Affairs, and other members of the Asian American Association of Wedding Professionals who are sponsoring the bridal showcase have established reputations as upscale wedding planners.

"We know that Elegant Affairs are probably the best wedding planners," Sangani said Thursday in the wedding planner's small showroom on Bloomfield Avenue.

"Don't say probably. They are the best," her father, Krishnakant Sangani of Edison, chimed in. His daughter, who is earning her master's degree at the Stern School of Business in New York, agreed. Her fiancé, Gupta, is earning his master's degree from Columbia University.

AAAWP, a group of about 40 mostly New Jersey-based wedding merchants, met on Wednesday night at the Mirage Hall in Edison to hammer out details of the upcoming exposition, which is free and open to the public.

The group met for the first time last year and soon launched the first bridal exposition, which drew approximately 150 brides-to-be and their families, according to Ammish Thakkar of Edison, a commercial and wedding photographer and president of the organization.

"All the vendors are very well-known in the community for their own superior work," Thakkar said.

Yogesh Dawar of Sparta, who provides musical entertainment for weddings, said at a meeting of the group at the Mirage Hall that the upscale wedding industry was established nearly 30 years ago by the Mehtani family, who own the Moghul restaurant in Morristown.

"They are the pioneers," Dawar said at the Mehtani-operated Mirage Hall. "Based on their direction, I don't think we can go wrong."

Big pricetag

Thakkar estimated that clients of AAAWP vendors spend an average of $50,000 on their weddings.

That's just the average high-end wedding cost. It doesn't include extras such as horses, elephants and even helicopters -- all of which the wedding planners have facilitated.

With 300 to 400 wedding affairs done each year,Shenoy said her clientele keeps growing. It also is diversifying, she said. She's done Hindu weddings, Muslim weddings, Christian weddings, and weddings without any religious themes. She said she is seeing more weddings where cultures and religions blend, and even couples without South Asian backgrounds incorporating traditions from the Indian Subcontinent, which includes India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Thakkar said New Jersey has a concentration of wedding vendors with Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi flair because of the large concentration of people with those backgrounds in certain areas, such as Edison.

The Middlesex County township, whose Oak Tree Road is lined with South Asian restaurants, music, video and grocery stores, still is where many wedding vendors are located.

The Morris County area has its own strengths in the industry.

Along Route 46 in Parsippany and in nearby towns, there are several other wedding decorators besides Elegant Affairs, including AAAWP-member, Lata Patel in Fairfield and Zari Boutique in Parsippany.

Morris wedding halls

Morris County also is home to popular wedding halls for South Asians, including Headquarters Plaza in Morristown and Birchwood Manor in Hanover. There also are frequently used caterers in the area, such as Chand Palace and Moghul.

The county also is home to a trusted and traditional source of travel: horses.

Marc Schumacher, founder of Equishare USA LLC, won the bid to lease the Seaton Hackney Stables from Morris County and has operated the facility since September. He also keeps his horses in Oldwick.

Schumacher, a member of AAAWP, specializes in providing horses and carriages for Indian wedding processions. The bridegroom typically arrives in a horse-drawn carriage during the baraat, and the couple leave together in the carriage during the vidai.

Schumacher said he was preparing for such processions in Queens over the weekend.

On Saturday, he organized a non-wedding related event -- a Christmas party at the Morristown stables.


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