Sara Shookman and Angelo DiFranco can’t remember when or how they first met.
They had been casual acquaintances during their college days at Ohio University and kept tabs on each other after graduation. But Shookman first realized DiFranco, a project manager for Valley View-based Harley Davidson Dealer Systems, was interested in her during a speech at a mutual friend’s wedding reception in July 2015. He invited the newlyweds to fix him up with someone “blonde, very pretty and an anchor on the 11 o’clock news.”
The stunt turned Shookman every shade of red and had friends and family in attendance assuming DiFranco ruined any chance with her. But Shookman agreed to a dinner at Bourbon Street Barrel Room in Tremont a month later. A few dates turned into a serious relationship. A year later, DiFranco proposed on a yacht he chartered for a romantic Lake Erie sunset cruise.
“He’s the grand-gesture person,” Shookman says. “He likes that stuff. He likes doing it,
I think. And he likes the payoff.”
It’s not surprising, then, that staging their Sept. 2 wedding and reception for 250 guests was a process that produced grand gestures all their own.
After touring a number of downtown venues, the couple settled on one of Shookman’s favorite Cleveland landmarks — the historic U.S. Coast Guard station on Whiskey Island. The city-owned art moderne structure, which opened in 1940 but has been shuttered since 1976, had no electricity, running water or working plumbing.
Yet the waterfront property at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River offers spectacular views of the Flats and downtown Cleveland — making it the ideal spot for the relaxed, yet elegant late-summer wedding Shookman envisioned.
“It was like, This is going to be stressful and expensive anyway. So let’s do something that feels incredible,” Shookman says.
To transform the space into a wedding venue, Shookman and DiFranco worked with the city’s Department of Public Works’ Division of Special Events to figure out the details.
“We had to go through the city of Cleveland as if we were planning this in Voinovich Park or on the Mall,” Shookman says, “as if we were planning the Cleveland Marathon.”
She presented to a 20-member special-events steering committee on details such as security and trash removal while securing permits for generator and reception tent rentals. Yet the extra legwork provided a distinct advantage.
“We were not locked into using any specific vendors,” she explains. “We could do kind of whatever we wanted. And that was huge. I had no idea until I really started researching this and talking to other brides how most venues are not like that.”
When planning the rest of their nautical-themed wedding, the couple was able to purchase their own liquor, request estimates from multiple vendors and discuss the price of everything together — right down to dinner napkins, an item Shookman found was cheaper to buy at Target than rent.
They tracked quotes and expenses on shared Excel spreadsheets.
“We really tried to find areas that were going to have impact, spend there, and not spend on things that people weren’t really going to notice as much,” she says.