By JOHN T. WARD
As the son of a singer in a wedding band, Mike Hernandez Jr. says he “grew up in the wedding business.” He was there when the band came to the house for its weekly rehearsals, and when no babysitter was available, he’d be schlepped to gigs, killing time behind the drummer.
That, and much more, he says, makes him well-qualified to create something he doesn’t believe has ever succeeded before: a one-stop market for wedding services. And in doing so, he’s ended one of downtown Red Bank’s most enduring vacancies.
Last week, Hernandez opened the Wedding Establishment, at 23 West Front Street. For Hernandez, the business represents the next-generation version of one he ran for five years at 21 East Front Street, ending last year: Sounds to Go DJs. That was an attempt to offer disc jockey and photography services, in conjunction with CLB Photography, under one roof.
It didn’t work out as planned, but the basic concept was solid, Hernandez said. So to supplement Sounds to Go, he forged ahead and created two new businesses of his own: Love Happens, a wedding photo and video service; and Indulge, which addresses the needs for flowers, furnishings and lighting.
Then he partnered with Sofia + Abbie, a creator of wedding invitations, and put them all under the umbrella of the Wedding Establishment. He’s also brought in wedding officiant Anthony Jude Setaro, who provides officiating services.
(Hernandez and Setaro, along with Doug Booton, were the principals in Jetsun Enterprises, an unsuccessful attempt to win the right to commercialize part of nearby Marine Park with recreational activities.)
The idea: one-stop shopping for most, if not all, the services couples need to tie the knot.
“It’s crazy that in an $84 billion industry, this has never been done before,” said the 37-year-old Tinton Falls resident. “And I’ve looked.”
For vendors, Hernadez’s big bet on vertical integration means they spend little or no time on marketing and billing services, depending on how extensively they link up with the Wedding Establishment.
“It’s important for me to let the photographers and VJs do what they love to do: just shoot,” said Hernandez.
It’s not a wedding-planner business, Hernandez said. Rather, the Wedding Establishment works with planners, individuals who coordinate the daylong (or longer) events associated with a wedding ceremony, by making available to them the same services Hernandez and company offer directly to brides- and grooms-to-be.
The business’ 4,000 square feet of space and “Macy’s window” frontage will be used to showcase the various services and host industry events — but not weddings themselves, under the terms of the lease, he said.
At age 37, Hernandez said he’s got the experience to make it work, having launched a party DJ service as a teenager and made a living as a wedding soundmeister ever since.
And of course, he’s in a wedding-crazy locale: a state that sees 50,000 weddings a year and a town so packed with photographers, jewelry stores, banquet halls and more than it hosts its own Wedding Walk every year. The next edition of the Red Bank RiverCenter-hosted shopping extravaganza for brides and grooms is scheduled for March 26.
By the way: The space Hernandez leased had been vacant since the departure of Love Lane Tuxedos, which relocated to Broad Street in 2004 and closed a decade later. A group led by Nima Nili bought the building for $550,000 in 2013 and completely gutted it.
Now, with the opening of the Wedding Establishment, every inch of the Nili group’s Red Bank commercial holdings – which include the five-story 12 Broad Street, the tallest building downtown — is now leased, said property manager Patrick Carroll. An apartment above the Jimmy John‘s sub shop next door the to Wedding Establishment is all that remains, he said.