Editor’s note: Two truths and a lie is a popular social icebreaker. Can you pick the lie out of the three statements? The answer will be revealed throughout the story. Look for this profile weekly.
Two truths & a lie: Judy Risteff, co-owner, founder of Vermont Wedding Association
- Her grandmother is a marine.
- On summer trips to Vermont she looked forward to sugar and snow.
- She caught a wedding bouquet at age 6.
Judy Risteff got her first taste of Vermont when her parents took her and her sisters, as young girls, from their Long Island home to Tunbridge for the summer.
Since then she’s had a love affair with the state that has turned into a profitable and, well, loving business. Risteff is the co-founder and owner of Vermont Bridal Association and for the past decade has staged eight to 10 bridal shows each year throughout the state. She also owns High Design, which is a gift-basket business that caters to corporate gifts.
Of those early years as a girl in Vermont, Risteff has fond memories.
“It was just a funny old farm house with no amenities… it was so much fun. I mean after growing up in Long Island it was not what we expected,” she said. Of that summer trip, she remembers having sugar on snow for her first time.
“The lady who owned the house we stayed at kept snow in the freezer. She said ‘you have to come down for sugar on snow’ and we didn’t even know what it was… They served it with sour pickles, too, to cut the sweetness, I guess. I could do without the pickles, but… it was kind of entertaining.”
Today, one of the things Risteff likes to ask the hundreds of prospective brides she encounters each year is why they are choosing to get married in Vermont.
“Most of them have a story like mine,” she said. “They had some experience with Vermont that they loved… whether vacationing with their parents as children or visiting with friends… We all have a piece of the Vermont we knew when we were growing up.”
However, it wasn’t until the early 1970s that Risteff and her husband Paul, would move to Vermont.
“When we first moved here they rolled up the red carpet early. You couldn’t buy a bottle of wine or beer after 8 p.m…Vermont has come a long way since then,” Ristoff says. “In the past decade with civil unions… it’s much more progressive and they did increase the number of weddings in Vermont, especially when it was new around 2002.”
Since then, she said, the number of same-sex unions have leveled off, and the controversy has subsided as well. It’s become an important part of the wedding industry in Vermont, she said, adding that it has become routine and established.
When asked how she got into the wedding business and if she was the child that had her wedding planned from an early age, she said she was definitely not that little girl.
“Oh no! No, I had no idea,” she recalled of her wedding, adding that she “had no idea I’d get into the wedding industry” years later.
Judy flowers -Two Truths
She and Paul started in the design business around 1996.
“We bought our first Sony camera, which took floppy disks, and we were both out there shooting… We made the pictures available on a digital form, when people were just starting to figure out that that was the future…
“So one year we were asked to do the program for The Rutland Regional Bridal Show, which was run by a cooperative group … Over time, we started taking a lot of photos for the shows and getting more and more involved,” she said. “We started to realize there was a certain need for Bridal Shows when vendors started complaining that there was no where to go…We did our first show in Killington in October of 2001, right after 9/11, then Middlebury later that year.
“We knew we had to trend lightly that first show… But my grandmother was a U.S. Marine – once a Marine always a Marine – and she came in her uniform and we asked other service members to come and we made a big deal of serving and honoring your country and we listened to everyone’s story. It was quite sweet,” she said.
A few years later, again at the Killington Bridal Show, Risteff experienced possibly the most unique bridal show event to date.
“A local jeweler sold the son of a local guy a diamond… They came to the bridal show and the jeweler asked him, ‘So did you propose to her yet,’ and he said ‘No, not yet.’ And he said, ‘Well, why don’t you do it here?'”
“Elias, who owns the diamond shop came up to me and told me the story and I was like ‘Wow, this doesn’t happen, this is fabulous,’ so I got my DJ to pause the music and we got him up on stage. Meanwhile his soon-to-be fiancé is wandering around eating cake and talking. Then the DJ announced that they have a bit of a story to tell and Jared, I think that was his name, starts calling her. ‘Beth, Beth where are you?’ And she’s mortified. She just wants to crawl underneath the table…. She wouldn’t come up. So he says, ‘Well, I just want to know if you will marry me?’ And everybody cheered. It was great. I mean you just don’t have stuff like that happen. It was the only time in 11 years we had anything like that happen,” Risteff said.
“So, of course, she had to come up and she was crying and you know it was emotional; we all sort of were,” she said. The DJ proceeded to play their song, she recalled, and everyone circled around them for their “first dance.”
“Talk about a story, think about what she tells people,” Risteff mused.
Risteff loves to hear stories of how couples met and got engaged. One of the craziest stories she heard was about a boy who buried the ring in the snow.
“It was in a box, in something waterproof and he buried it in the snow… They were cross-country skiing, and I guess he put a marker in the snow so he knew where it was. He must have put it there the night before, so he was digging in the snow when they got there and, at first, couldn’t find it because it had shifted a little,” Risteff said. “Have to be pretty gutsy to bury your diamond in the snow!”
Besides fascinating stories, she’s up-to-date on the latest wedding trends that are often featured on magazine covers.
“The most recent thing is Will and Kate, the Royal family, got married in just five months, so people say, ‘If she did it, then I can.’ It’s crazy!” Risteff says. “And they want her dress and her flowers and her hair… Whenever you see a big wedding like that you see the trend for years. But it’s funny, because the Queen is not paying for their wedding… but they don’t think about that. They just look at the magazines and think that’s how they have to do it…. Within two hours of the Royal wedding (which was in April) a designer was online with the drawing (of the dress) telling you when it would be in stores. So you knew that you could buy the dress and look just like the Princess.”
Over the past three to four years, wedding venues have reported smaller weddings of around 75-100 people. But recently, they’ve starting to see larger weddings come back, the ones with guest lists of 200-250.
“We’re not all going to see that right away, but it is certainly an exciting trend for businesses,” she said.
Cost cutting methods always come down to the amount of people, Risteff says. “Everybody in the industry knows that the only place a bride can cut back is the number of people she invites. That’s the only thing she can do that won’t affect her wedding day… Otherwise you’re compromising things that are important to you – photographer or dress. Everyone has a list of different priorities, but without affecting your day, it’s the number of people.”
From her first Bridal Show in Killington in 2001, Judy and Paul Risteff have grown the total shows per year to about 8-10. “Burlington grew the fastest,” she said, but “Rutland is the longest continuous bridal show in the state.” This January will be its 26th year.
“Paul calls it a well-oiled machine… Each time we try to spice it up, jazz it up and keep it exciting,” she says.
Risteff says guys are represented at her bridal shows, although they are a smaller percentage. “More and more guys are coming along because they want to be part of the planning process,” she said. “It’s his day too and we love to have guys there… but it still does remain a girly thing… Brides, with friends or aunts or cousins, it’s girls day out for most.”
Was it the same for Risteff?
“Oh gosh,” she said, not taking the bait. “It was like a million years ago, and I was young back in New York … Yeah, those were the days. You know, a million years ago.