LOS ANGELES — Jennifer Cassista expected that her 18-month journey to the altar would include a few stumbles.
A mixed-up order, perhaps. An incorrect size. A meltdown or two.
She didn't count on having to book a new venue less than three months before her May nuptials because her first choice closed down.
Of all the troubles that can arise during wedding planning, having the location fall through at the last minute is perhaps the most trying. Couples tend to decide early where to tie the knot, and every other detail is linked to that. When a seemingly perfect spot unexpectedly evaporates before the big day, it sets off a domino effect.
Real-life stories of desperate brides abound on Internet message boards and vendor blogs. With many world economies weakened in the last few years, it's not uncommon for restaurants or event spaces to go out of business, leaving couples in the lurch.
Pre-wedding hurdles usually can be fixed in time, said Tampa, Fla., wedding planner Lauren Grove, who keeps the "Every Last Detail" blog. For couples who find themselves venue-less before the big day, the priority should be fighting to get the deposit back.
Those who can't need to rethink their budget when searching for a plan B venue, Grove said.
"Hopefully the losses wouldn't be too severe, and they would be able to reschedule and have their dream wedding day," she said.
Luck and resourcefulness saved the day for Cassista and her fiance, Tom Bryan. They had thought they had found their dream ceremony site when they booked a resort lodge not far from where they lived in Ontario, Canada, in March 2009. During a walk-through, the wedding coordinator gushed about an upcoming renovation to erect a new vow-exchange site down by some rapids, complete with a lush garden and pew-style seating. Though the couple had to use their imagination, they trusted the resort to deliver.
Things became suspicious when no one returned Bryan's calls or e-mails when he asked for updates on the project. This past spring, he received a call from a resort front desk receptionist saying the place had gone bankrupt.
Cassista and Bryan started dialing other venues on their short list. All were booked on their wedding date, May 29.
"We were in desperation mode. It was like, 'Oh my God, we have to do this all over again,'" Bryan said.
Bryan's father, who sells computer touchscreens to restaurants, suggested Golden Beach Resort on the south shore of Rice Lake, east of Toronto.
Cassista and Bryan weren't impressed by the space's website, but in desperation decided to check it out in person. Not only were the grounds better than the first place, but the dance floor was larger. An added bonus was that it was available the day they wanted, and was cheaper than the previous resort too.
With the new venue locked in, the couple spent the next several weeks redoing invitations and notifying other vendors.
Looking back, Cassista said, she was willing to change the wedding date if they didn't find a backup in time.
"You just need to relax and roll with the punches. Things will happen in every bride's planning," she said. "Be levelheaded and try to figure it out."
Self-described foodies Sarina Chhay and Brian Harnett worked their connections to turn a pre-wedding near-disaster in their favor.
The couple were set on holding their reception at Great Bay restaurant, a seafood restaurant close to Fenway Park in Boston. But the economy had other plans. After six years in business, the restaurant was shuttered at the end of May 2009, three months before their wedding.
They scurried to find a replacement, calling more than 20 places and visiting half a dozen, with zero luck.
"There was a feeling of helplessness," Chhay said. "I was losing sleep."
Harnett had an idea. As a last resort, he reached out to the restaurant's events manager, who promised to check with the other sister restaurants to see if they could host their wedding.
Fortunately, Radius, known for modern French cuisine, was available. The couple went with it since it was where they shared their first fine dining experience. In September, they celebrated their one-year anniversary there too, the chaos all but a memory.
"It goes to show that you can plan a wedding in two months," Harnett said.
Both Cassista and Bryan, and Chhay and Harnett managed to get their money returned.
Christina and Christoph Schumacher had a laundry list of things go wrong before they said their "I dos" in June 2008.
Many couples worry about the weather not cooperating, but for the Schumachers Mother Nature unleashed a flood a week before their wedding in a small Indiana town, triggering a state of emergency. The state park where they planned to have their wedding was shut down because of lack of water, and it was unclear whether it would reopen in time.
With no backup plan, the couple contacted several politicians and explained the situation. In the end, they were able to use a log cabin at the park for their ceremony, but the guest lodgings were off-limits. After saving the venue, they scrambled to find motel rooms for out-of-town guests.
It rained on and off the day of the wedding, but the Schumachers managed to have their first dance and cake-cutting outside.