Is Lake Oswego a wedding destination?
In the 10 years since she moved to Portland, Lalleh Rafeei had never visited Lake Oswego. But after the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled her initial plans for a wedding along the Portland waterfront — and deciding that the venues in her city of residence were too industrial — she looked elsewhere. In late June, she got hitched at Ironlight — a venue that hadn't opened yet when she first donned her engagement ring in 2019.
"The venue was perfect," she said. "It was exactly what I was looking for."
With the pandemic leading brides and grooms to delay weddings until they could host an unrestricted celebration again, two of Lake Oswego's top wedding venues — Ironlight and The Foundry — have been especially busy this summer, with weekends booked out well into the fall. Along with increased food options, perceptions of downtown Portland have contributed to Lake Oswego becoming a more popular destination for weddings, according to local organizers.
"Couples don't want to get married downtown with the homeless situation and (lack of) safety," said Nora Sheils of the wedding planning company Bridal Bliss. "They're trying to get out of the city as much as possible — and Lake Oswego is so close to downtown, close to the airport; we have beautiful venues.
"That's the overall vibe we're getting. They've (bridal venues) literally never been busier in 20 years of business."
New venue gains momentum
When Sonal Haladay and fellow co-founders of Ironlight discussed starting up the event space in Lake Oswego, she said they had some concerns about whether people would want to come to the Portland suburb for a wedding. In the end, she said that hasn't been the case — although most of the couples who get married there are from Lake Oswego or have ties to the community.
"We have a few couples who have no idea what Lake Oswego is. They're coming here really for the venue itself. Downtown Portland is busy with weddings as well. We offer something a little bit different because of our design," she said.
From a business perspective, Ironlight opened at the worst possible time: right before COVID-19 erased the 2020 wedding season. This year has been much different. The venue has booked out every weekend day with weddings or wedding-related events this summer, according to Haladay.
"We're already booking for next summer as well. There's definitely people who waited to get married, maybe got engaged two years ago but weren't in a rush to get married because of the pandemic," she said.
Sheils said the opening of the venue was a major boon to the Lake Oswego wedding scene.
"It's beautifully done, elevated, no expense was spared and it was very well thought-out. The neutral palette can accommodate different styles," she said.
Natalia Barwegen, the sales and marketing manager for The Foundry, said the event space can fit around 130 people and is attractive due to its location along the Willamette River and because it has indoor and outdoor spaces.
Lake Oswego resident Carolyn Reece recently chose to host a wedding rehearsal dinner event at The Foundry in part because of the connections she had with the venue. A few of her kids attended dances there growing up, and she also felt that the lack of traffic was a plus compared to Portland. The bride also enjoys watersports, so the venue was a good fit all around.
"Being on the water, especially during the summer, is a beautiful setting," Reece said.
Why Lake Oswego?
Barwegen said Lake Oswego can be a happy medium between an urban and rural setting for a wedding.
"Weddings are beautiful out here. You really get that indoor-outdoor vibe without having to go to wine country or all the way to Mount Hood. It's still close to a lot of great urban things, but you're kind of in suburbia," Barwegen said. "It's a really great halfway point between going far out in the country and being right in downtown Portland. We love it here. It's been really great."
Barwegen and Haladay added that the proliferation of popular restaurant options like Bamboo Sushi and Salt & Straw adds to the appeal of the community as a wedding destination.
"That wasn't part of Lake Oswego a few years ago. It definitely helps," Barwegen said.
Rafeei said the attractiveness of downtown Lake Oswego was another bonus.
"(We had) a lot of people coming in from out of town. With Portland proper and the increase in the homelessness issue, a lot of people might not be used to that. Lake Oswego is a nice area away from that," she said.
Challenges and opportunities
Other than The Foundry and Ironlight, Sheils said Oswego Lake Country Club and Oswego Hills Winery are common wedding destinations within the community. She thinks the town could still stand to have more venues.
The biggest challenge for Lake Oswego, however, is hotel space. The city doesn't have many hotels — particularly high-end ones — and so wedding attendees often have to travel from Portland or other suburbs rather than staying locally.
"There's no luxury hotel in Lake Oswego," Sheils said. "That means we typically have to secure hotel blocks downtown or another area and shuttle guests over. It's just an added expense and way more convenient to have everyone close by."
Reece, who recently hosted a wedding rehearsal dinner at The Foundry, also said the only drawback of the community was the lack of hotels. At Rafeei's wedding, some people stayed in town while others traveled from Portland or Tigard.
Sheils and others are excited about the North Anchor development, which will bring a hotel to the heart of downtown. The hotel is projected to be completed by 2024, though supply chain and inflation have created challenges for the developer, Urban Development + Partners.
Although things are going well in Lake Oswego, reports of booming wedding seasons have disseminated from venues across the United States. Further, according to Sheils, the families of brides and grooms are putting out all the stops for their weddings this year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they often weren't able to see their loved ones much for years. Now, they are making up for lost time.
"People have been saving up and are excited to celebrate with their nearest and dearest they were not able to see as much the last couple years," she said. "Couples are really wanting to give their guests an experience. We're seeing a lot of weekend weddings where there are multiple events, really elevated events."
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