Searching for the perfect wedding venue has become as important as selecting "the" wedding dress for that big day. A venue serves as more than just a place to hold a ceremony, but as a backdrop for a couple's memories and dreams. A refection of their style, values and vision for the future are entertwined in that "just right" celebration space.
The Withrow Ballroom
“People say their parents and grandparents were married here—that it runs in the family,” says event lead Katy Asher, who has worked in the wedding industry for six years.
The space is huge—capacity 500-plus indoors plus a sprawling yard for outdoor ceremonies—and historic, with a rustic vibe and an original dance floor that’s been there since the place opened in 1928. In order to preserve the wood, there’s a strict “no dancing with drinks” rule, which visitors happily follow at the weddings and old-fashioned Thursday afternoon dances that have been happening there for decades.
Courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society
Its legacy almost came to a screeching halt in late 2017, when previous owner Paul Bergmann put the venue up for auction and, unsure about its future, cancelled all upcoming events. Enter Laura Mendele and Annie Hlavka, young entrepreneurs with experience in event planning and strong ties to the area. Instead of razing the building, which many locals feared, the new owners immediately went to work breathing new life into the space. They reinstated the Thursday dances, scheduling bands and comedians to bring in extra revenue on non-wedding nights.
“Laura really came into nothing,” says Asher, who admits that the small team puts in long hours on wedding weekends—and had to pull together to refurbish the monolithic space in time for the first events of the year. They painted the interior and added modern touches like a groomsman room and a bridal suite so wedding parties can get ready on-site. But they kept the exterior rustic and recognizable—for now.
Courtesy of Michelle Huber Photography
The Withrow reopened in spring 2018 and hosted about 25 weddings in the first season, two for couples that walked away from deposits elsewhere in order to have their weddings at the Withrow. One of them was Julie (Brewer) Deeg, who got engaged to her husband Pete in March 2017 and— with Pete having grown up near the Withrow and with a big country wedding in mind—booked the Withrow first. They found out the next January that the building was closing—likely for good—and it sent their wedding plans into a tailspin.
“We were in a panic trying to find a new venue. We found out they were reopening and booked immediately for our original day, July 14,” Julie says. “You only get married once!”
Courtesy of Michelle Huber Photography
They had their ceremony at a church in White Bear Lake but hosted happy hour, dinner and dancing for 300 at the Withrow. Julie chose Makeup by Mindie in Stillwater and Hairworks to pull off her bridal look. She capitalized on the clean, open space by adding simple floral centerpieces by Moody Hues and making use of optional chandeliers. The Withrow has a full bar on-site, so they selected their own beer kegs. Vincenzo’s brought in fried chicken, mostaccioli and barbecue-esque sides. “We wanted to go with something laid-back that tastes good!” says Deeg.
They rounded out their night with videography and their “love story” captured on film by Showtime Entertainment, photography by Michelle Huber Photography, and music from Showtime Entertainment in River Falls. But it was the location that made it all work.
“We feel so fortunate that we were able to get back in there and that we get to be a part of it continuing to flourish,” Deeg says.
JX Event Venue
Judd Sather was a math teacher for 15 years in North Saint Paul before his career as a photographer and videographer took off in Stillwater. He opened a beautiful studio on Main Street and—as he got to know the wedding industry and lack of local venues—was repeatedly asked to rent out its rustic-industrial upstairs loft.
The Loft at Studio J officially opened as an event venue in 2014, and though it could only accommodate small-ish groups, was booked constantly.
Courtesy of Studio J
“But there was a demand for a bigger, updated space,” Sather recalls, crunching the numbers as only a math teacher could do. In keeping with the historic neighborhood—and with nary a vacant lot in the area—he bought the old shoe factory two blocks away on 2nd Street.
The space needed a lot of work but represented three floors and 42,000 square feet of possibilities. He imagined an escape room, beautiful groomsman and bridal suites, a salon, and strategic tenants—like Gartner Studios and the Velveteen speakeasy in the lower level—that would be symbiotic with hosting weddings upstairs. He set about creating renderings of a huge refurbished hall—capacity 720—on the top floor, and he staged a stylized shoot so potential wedding clients could picture themselves in it.
While making use of the building’s beautiful bones and original architecture, he imagined high-tech and high-touch details that were all modern: digital menus flanking a huge bar, high-quality TV monitors and projector screens to display couples’ wedding content, velvet couches and posh lighting interwoven with old brick and original wood. There were forty events booked before the construction was even finished in mid-summer 2016, with 130 total in the first year.
Sather and his team created a full-service wedding umbrella company, where clients can mix and match services or book an all-out VIP package—including photography, limos, liquor, décor, and even a honeymoon suite in addition to space rental. “We handle pretty much everything but the dress and food—and we’re working on the catering!” says Sather. “But the renovation took a year. It was a beast!”
Amy (Schuler) Vojta of Stillwater and her husband Andrew of Maple Grove got engaged in May 2017 and looked at lots of venues to find the right mix of modern amenities and historic charm. When they happened upon a listing for JX online, their search was over. “I just fell in love with the space,” Amy Vojta says.
Courtesy of Studio J
They planned a July 13, 2018, event, using Just Cuz beauty and the on-site bridal suite to get ready. Elishia at Lakeside Floral in Mahtomedi designed bouquets of greenery and simple flowers to adorn the farm tables. The couple rented Edison bulbs and movable chandeliers from the venue, accenting with burlap, rustic lanterns and blush flowers. They used vintage metal letters instead of table numbers—echoing the industrial vibe. And the whole day was captured by Judd Sather Photography.
“They made it low-key, not stressful at all,” says Vojta, recalling how at one point, the heat and nerves were getting to her. But Judd and his team of photographers and assistants immediately got her cold water and a candy bar, using humor and experience to put her at ease. “And somehow [Judd] managed to get the perfect Lift Bridge photo even though the water was high and there was orange fencing everywhere.” That feat involved some creativity and strategic angles but—just like the vision and attention to detail he used to create a beautifully unique space out of nothing—Sather brought her dream to life.
“They were true VIP clients,” he says. “From a grooms’ dinner at the speakeasy to photography to music, we were able to provide the whole symbiotic nine yards!”