Brides from all over come to the Cape Fear coast for a destination wedding, and two couples in North Carolina are sharing their story of frustration to make sure it doesn't happen to any other brides.
One couple is from the Charlotte area and the other from Raleigh. Both found the same wedding planner online.
Esther Rosado said her experience with a wedding planning in the Port City almost kept her away from her dream of a wedding day in Wilmington.
"When you're a bride, you're very vulnerable to a lot of things," Rosado said. "You have a picture perfect wedding in your mind."
She said she found good reviews online, so she hired Terry Taylor with Weddings by the Beach Photography.
"Everything that he showed us that day when I interviewed him – the work looked good, the pictures looked good," she said. "He talked a really good game."
The couple paid thousands up front for deposits, reservations and appoints. Esther said she became suspicious when she asked Taylor for details about the planning and he did not give them. She decided to contact her arborist and make-up artist and hairstylist directly.
"He didn't pay them," she said. "He didn't have the contracts, he didn't have anything with them."
The vendors soon realized that they were in the dark, as well. Linda Williams with Glamour to Go said Taylor gave her false names, like Esther Hernando instead of Rosado.
"I was letting her know that he has not paid me," Williams said. "And she was saying ‘I had already paid him in full'."
When reached for a comment, Taylor said Rosado and everyone else were close friends working together to ruin the reputation of his business. He said her canceled contract cost his company money in lost business from other brides. Taylor missed a scheduled interview to clarify his side of the story, and has not been heard from since.
You're not alone
Josh Handy and Roxanne Marangoni went through the same experience with Taylor.
"He's become very bitter," said Handy. "He's going on multiple website, including the Better Business Bureau's website and posting negative reviews about the arborist that we are currently working with."
That arborist is Cindy Zachman with Sweetwater Bamboo. She and Williams are two business owners working with the two couples to complete their wedding plans without Taylor. Zachman said what he's doing is wrong.
"He's taking advantage of these brides," she said. "He's a bully and that just does not sit right with me."
Bullying might seem extreme, but Zachman and Rosado both saved text messages from Taylor after they started working together.
"He sent me a text message saying ‘You own a business too, now it's my turn," said Rosado.
The message refers to the complaints that Rosado and Handy filed with the Better Business Bureau and North Carolina Department of Justice. A spokesperson for the DOJ said money had been returned to the couples, but Rosado said it's not about the money at this point.
"If this is someone who's representing a business and does something so personal as a wedding, I feel like there are so many brides that are being duped by somebody and don't get to experience the quality of what Wilmington is," she said.
BBB complaints from both couples remain unresolved, which mean they are not satisfied with Taylor's response. And many of the complaints made against the businesses helping these brides proved to be unfounded because they were made by Taylor.
Several organizers of wedding expos around Wilmington report that they won't work with Taylor. Kathleen Beall Meyer at Cape Fear Wedding and Mike Raab at Carolina Wedding Guide both said he is not welcome at their events after previous problems with him.
Avoid the wedding bell blues
Other business owners in the wedding business said Taylor essentially isolated his brides from the service providers, and that should be a big red flag.
The same goes for the warnings that Esther said he gave her about consultations costing hundreds more from the service providers.
Experts suggest looking beyond the online reviews. Get to know your potential wedding planner and who they've worked with on previous events.
And don't forget about friends and family. If they don't know have a good recommendation, someone they know could offer an idea, especially if they live in a city where you're planning a destination wedding.
Handy and Marangoni celebrated their wedding in October, with Rosado still planning hers for 2014.