A Chandler wedding venue, whose parent company is accused of scamming investors, abruptly closed its doors and left brides scrambling to find a replacement for their receptions.
Noah’s Event Venue, located off of Yeager Drive, warned clients their prescheduled weddings for 2020 won’t happen because the business is closing.
“We have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of your community and hoped to stick around for longer,” the company wrote in an email. “However, our building is older and requires a lot of updates.”
Melanie Stephenson of Gilbert had just sent out her wedding invitations to her March reception when she got the news from the company.
“After much discussion with the owners of the venue, they have decided to sell the building and we are therefore unable to host your event,” the Noah’s email states.
Stephenson said she was shocked and confused by the email and wanted an explanation.
“I didn’t think it was real at first,” she recalled.
She and her fiancé signed a deal back in March 2018 to host their wedding at Noah’s for about $10,000. They returned to the Chandler venue several times this year to look at different layouts and approve table linens.
Not once during any of these visits did a Noah’s employee indicate the venue might be closing soon, Stephenson said.
The bride-to-be feels cheated and knows she will have to delay her wedding until she can get her money back and find another venue.
“It’s just a huge mess,” she said.
Stephenson’s situation is not unique to Arizona.
Other couples across the country have had to scramble to find new wedding venues after their local Noah’s site surprisingly shuttered.
Locations in Kentucky, Virginia, Alabama and Michigan have all abruptly closed in the months since Noah’s, a national company based in Utah, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March 2019.
“I feel like the rug was just pulled out from underneath me,” one Virginia couple told a local news station in September.
Noah’s once seemed like a successful event-planning business with 42 locations and plans to keep expanding.
But court documents suggest the company was internally struggling to manage all those properties.
Noah’s Chief Executive Officer William Bowser allegedly told investors in May he was “robbing Peter to pay Paul” and shifting around investments for new venues to keep the company’s existing locations afloat, court papers state.
This style of money management is under scrutiny in federal court after a group of investors sued Noah’s and a group of other companies earlier this year.
The plaintiffs accuse Rockwell Debt-Free Properties of deceiving them into investing $5 million in a Noah’s venue in Indiana - it was never built.
“Though funds invested by plaintiffs were meant to be used for construction of a Noah’s building on the property, those funds were misappropriated, and all of the defendants concealed the misappropriation or participated in it,” the plaintiffs wrote in court records.
The lawsuit describes a complicated web of companies and funds allegedly leaving investors in the dark on where their money was going.
Funds given to Rockwell were supposed to be transferred to Gabriel Management Corporation, which is controlled by Noah’s CEO, and is used to build the new Indiana venue. But plaintiffs claim their investments were redistributed to other Noah locations.
U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell ruled in June this money flow between Rockwell, Gabriel, and Noah was not checked by any financial controls.
Furthermore, the judge noted how several of CEO William Bowser’s relatives worked for his two companies and had a financial stake in the investments obtained by Rockwell.
“(Bowser) benefited from the transfer because the success of Gabriel and Noah protected not only his financial interests but the direct financial interests of multiple members of his family,” the judge wrote.
Judge Campbell ordered Bowser to forfeit $347,821 to the court because it already appeared the plaintiffs could prove the defendants unjustly enriched themselves.
In court filings, Bowser’s counsel has disputed the allegations and claim Noah’s has not “defrauded anybody or engaged in any criminal conduct.”
Eric Mia of Laveen had no knowledge of the company’s financial troubles before he signed to have his wedding at its Chandler location next year.
He and his fiancée paid a $1,000-deposit last month and had no inkling Noah’s was already closing several locations in other states.
“There should have been a warning,” Mia said.
Noah’s guaranteed Mia his deposit will be refunded and he’s already begun looking for a new venue.
Though the cancellation was devastating, he said the experience hasn’t completely ruined his fiancée’s wedding-planning process.
“It was definitely a big blow to our excitement,” Mia added. “It didn’t completely deflate the balloon – it just really took out some air.”
Shortly after Melanie Stephenson started talking to the media about her predicament, she said Noah’s contacted her and offered to move up her wedding to January.
Stephenson declined because it would have been impossible to notify all her relatives in time. She’s focused on getting her money back, which she foresees as a being a challenge.
Noah’s promised to refund Stephenson about $3,000 of the money she paid. Noahs told her if she wants the remaining $7,000, she gave the company, she will have to file a claim in bankruptcy court.
After finding out so many Noah’s locations have already closed, Stephenson’s not sure whether she’ll get her money back.
“It seems like all of them are closing down,” Stephenson said. “It makes it seem like we aren’t going to get our refunds.”
Noah’s did not respond to request for comment. The company’s website states it plans to open a new location in Ohio.
Couples can avoid wedding plan chaos, expert says
AFN NEWS STAFF
Valley Master Wedding Planner KimHorn said the collapse of Noah’s underscores the need for couples to take some precautionary measures as they prepare for their wedding.
Basic wedding insurance can reimburse couples for non-recoverable deposits and purchases if covered circumstances beyond their control cause a wedding postponement or cancelation.
“Wedding insurance also helps provide protection against no-show or bankrupt vendors, damage to wedding attire, gift and much more,” Horn said, listing family illness, military deployment, products or services that don’t materialize such as flowers or food, no-show photographers or similar service provides, a damaged wedding dress or rings – and venues that go belly up.
Horn, one of only 75 master wedding planners in the world, said couples should negotiate and carefully read all contracts before they sign.
With Saturdays for weddings as premium days – followed closely by Sunday and Friday – “some venues and vendors may be limited to availability on peak dates and peak seasons and may require a signed contract and non-refundable retainer in order to take your wedding date out of their current availability,” Horn said.
“Get what is included for what you are paying for in writing and signed by both parties, including the dates, times and specific location of the venue if you aren’t buying out the entire venue,” Horn advised.
“Find out what the cancellation clause and the change of date clauses are for the venue and vendor, and get this in writing in your contract signed by both parties,” she added.
Horn also said couples should use a credit card rather than cash or check to pay for services and the venue.
“Venues and vendors may add a credit card processing fee of a few percentage points, yet at least – depending on your cardholder agreement – this may give you more protection if something happens and is reported to your credit card company within 60 days of the charges being posted to your account,” she said.
“Even after this, some credit card companies may be able to assist you by you disputing the charges, and putting in writing what has transpired on services you did not receive, yet paid for,” Horn added.
Horn also recommends getting quotes from at least three vendors, “so you may familiarize yourself with current rates, and food and beverage service options. Each venue and vendor will vary, and you will find the right fit, yet it may not be on your first attempt.”
And before you get those quotes, she suggests getting references and reading reviews.
Research is critical – and not just by reading online reviews since such reviews can be left by anyone.
“Ask and check references,” Horn said. “If the venue or vendor isn’t responsive prior to you hiring them, how responsive do you think they will be after you sign a contract and pay them a retainer.”
There are also certain code words in pricing couples need to know. If a price of, for example, $100 per guest is quoted with “plus plus” or “++,” that means “you will have to pay tax and gratuity/service charges on top of the $100 – which could potentially add 25 percent service charge plus tax.”
“If you sign an agreement which states your service charge of 24 percent is subject to change, this will affect your budget. Ask to have the service charge guaranteed. Ask to have the menu and price guaranteed or with a maximum “x” percentage increase so you know how this may affect your budget,” Horn said.
Horn and 350 of the Valley’s top wedding experts will be at the Arizona Bridal Show 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Jan. 11-12 at the Phoenix Convention Center South Building.
One couple will win thousands of dollars off their wedding essentials while brides can save up to 80 percent of their and their bridesmaids’ gowns.
The show also will feature wedding gown trends for 2020, including high slits, capes, see-through and sheer fabrics, exposed boning and swag sleeves.
Admission is $12.
Information: 602-418-9089, info@ArizonaBridalSource.com.