ISLAMORADA -- Weddings are big business in the Florida Keys. But because so many of them are of the destination variety, the area hasn't traditionally hosted wedding expositions, where brides can learn all they need to know in a one-stop shop.
Islamorada entrepreneur Jason Wade will try to change that today, as he puts on the 2014 Florida Keys Wedding & Event Planning Expo at the Islander Resort's Florida Keys Conference Center. Wade is gambling that enough brides both from the Keys and the mainland will attend to make the event a success.
Other merchants in the wedding industry also hope Wade's bet pays off.
"It will be an awesome thing if it works and people come in and the brides get to see the vendors," said Debra D'Amato, owner of Floral Fantasy Weddings in Islamorada.
Floral Fantasy is among 51 vendors participating in the expo, which lasts from noon to 5 p.m. They include photographers, salons, hotels, wedding planners, caterers and more.
Wade, 39, says the pieces are in place. Now, he'll just have to wait and see if he meets his goal of drawing in 200 brides. Admittance is $5, though discounts are available on Groupon.
"I'm really trying to reach out to people around the Keys to let them know this is happening and we can really make their life a lot easier," Wade said.
The Islamorada exposition isn't the first Wade has put on. But it is the first in a while. He did two wedding shows in Orlando in 2003, he said.
He's also planning an expo at the Westin Key West in May and has begun hosting monthly Wednesday roundtable discussions with Keys wedding-related merchants in an effort to increase cohesion within the important local industry.
The goal of the roundtables, said Wade, is to "find what we all can do to increase the wedding economy."
Debbie Pierog, owner of Caribbean Catering in Islamorada, said that five of the brides she is currently working with plan to attend Sunday's exposition. But like D'Amato, she's waiting to see whether it will succeed. The key, both women said, is marketing.
Wade has promoted the event locally through the Florida Keys Free Press and The Key West Citizen and on the mainland through digital media -- mainly Facebook, Pinterest, Groupon and the event's website, keysexpo.com.
D'Amato says the off-island market makes up some 95 percent of the brides she works with.
"Actually getting them down here where I can meet them would make them so much more comfortable," she said. "It would be a wonderful thing."