The Enthusiasts Guide from “Yes” to “I Do”

Host Leah Longbrake is pulling back the veil to bring you honest advice and creative ideas from those in the wedding industry. From the Engagement to the Honeymoon, get all the details you need from wedding and event experts on how to make it your best day ever!

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Real Bride Barbara Stitzer: Prejudice in Planning Led to Creating an Inclusive Magazine

Real Bride Barbara Stitzer: Prejudice in Planning Led to Creating an Inclusive Magazine

Barbara Stitzer, the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Northeast Ohio Weddings Magazine, shares with us her personal wedding journey and how the discrimination she faced with her interfaith marriage led her to create the magazine.

Follow Northeast Ohio Magazine on Instagram and Facebook!

Get to Know Barb:

A night owl who never sleeps, Barb Stitzer does many things. She’s a photographer, the owner of Northeast Ohio Weddings Magazine, is a former SAG actor, she is a champion of young women and helps them understand the modeling and acting process, and she owns Watercolor Woodwork’s, a resin and wood charcuterie board company. But the most important things in her life are her husband Buzz, and her two daughters, Zoe and Tenley.





This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thank you to Executive Producers David Moss, Gerardo Orlando, Production Director Brigid Coyne and Audio Engineer Eric Koltnow.

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Leah Longbrake:

Barb, welcome to Weddings Unveiled. I'm so happy to have you here today.

Barb Stitzer:

I am so happy to be here today.

Leah Longbrake:

And so, we're obviously going to talk about Northeast Ohio Weddings magazine and how you started it. But what really led to it, if I'm correct, is your own wedding journey.

Barb Stitzer:

Yes. When I was about to get married, and this is almost 25 years ago in very liberal Southern California, I couldn't find anyone. My husband and I are different religions and I couldn't find anyone to marry us. It was so hard. I mean, I finally found someone. It was just a non-perfection and then in other ways, perfect, amazing, wonderful planning session. And when I got here to Ohio, 24 years later, I kept on meeting people who weren't being treated well when they were getting married. And in particular, there was a girl who was attached to her wheelchair by her throat. She had been in a terrible accident and I don't even know what it's called that she had. An attachment to her throat, to her wheelchair.

Barb Stitzer:

And she wanted to get married to her fiance on the same rooftop that they had met on. And they didn't have disabled access to the rooftop. And so they're like, "Hey, it's okay. We have a dumbwaiter. We'll just pull that thing out of your neck, run you up the stairs and just hold your breath. And we'll put you in the dumbwaiter, we'll put the chair on the dumbwaiter and it'll be fine". And she's like, "It doesn't work that way".

Leah Longbrake:

No. Oh my gosh.

Barb Stitzer:

Yeah. And things like that just kept on happening. And I'm a photographer and I shoot models a lot. And one of my models moms was, she was larger. I mean, she was probably a size 24, which is probably a 28 to 30 in wedding sizes. And she had her mom and her sister and her daughters and her fiance's daughter, and they went out to brunch and they went to this boutique and they got in and they were like, "Okay, so here's the bride". And she's like, "No, I'm the bride". And they're like, "Oh no, you're not the bride".

Leah Longbrake:

Rude.

Barb Stitzer:

And she's like, "Well, can I just try on", "Oh no, you'll break the dress". "Well, I won't zip it". "No." She was crying. Her daughter was standing there all embarrassed. I was like, you can't do this. So I just thought, I'm going to start a magazine that is diverse and inclusive and happy for everybody. And that's what I did. So the first magazine, my first magazine came out in 2019 and it had the first person of color by herself on the cover of a wedding magazine in Ohio ever.

Leah Longbrake:

Wow.

Barb Stitzer:

And then the next year, I had the second person of color on the cover by herself of a wedding magazine ever. So we've had people in wheelchairs in wedding gowns. We had a down syndrome woman walking in our show. I had a 400 pound man and a 400 pound wife walking in our show. I had a couple that had been married for 68 years and they walk to the end of the runway and kissed.

Leah Longbrake:

Oh, that's so sweet.

Barb Stitzer:

It was, everybody went nuts. It's so gratifying. It's so beautiful. I had the first person in hijab in a wedding dress. All of these people get married and all of these people deserve to be treated like they are Queens and Kings and special. And that's what the magazine does. And all of our wonderful advertisers and vendors, they believe in it. And they are so kind and accommodating and fun with everybody. And it's just this happy, happy business. And so many brides and grooms have come up to me and been so thankful. Maybe they're they're gay or they're trans or they're like me, and we're different religion, different cultures. And they're like, "Barb, I feel so safe using your vendors because I know that they're going to accept me".

Leah Longbrake:

They're open. Yeah. Well, let's go back because you said that you and your husband are of different faiths and you wanted to have an interfaith ceremony back when you were having your wedding in California, but you had a hard time finding an officiant that was supportive of that, correct?

Barb Stitzer:

Yes. Yes, I did.

Leah Longbrake:

Walk us through that whole process.

Barb Stitzer:

I have to say, I had a planner and my planner did take care of it eventually, but because I'm Jewish and my husband is basic Christian, I would call it. And there was just no one who wanted to work together in this. They wanted us to change religions, change classes. And we both felt really strongly that we fell in love with each other because we are each other, and we didn't want to change each other.

Leah Longbrake:

So eventually, your planner did help you find ... Did you have two different officiants? One that was of Christian faith and one of Jewish? Or did you find someone that was able to just find a way to acknowledge both?

Barb Stitzer:

No, we found a rabbi and a minister and they were best friends and-

Leah Longbrake:

Oh. See, we can coexist people.

Barb Stitzer:

Yeah. And they did it together and it was beautiful and amazing.

Leah Longbrake:

What was the rest of your planning like? Was that the only major hiccup you had?

Barb Stitzer:

I have to say, and I always say this and people look at me funny, but my wedding was the best wedding I've ever had or been to. And it's the only wedding I've ever had, but I've been to a lot of weddings and it was perfect and amazing. I'm from LA, I'm from California. So we got married at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel and my husband, sometimes men want to be involved in things and my husband doesn't want to be involved in anything, which is fine with me because I get to plan it how I like it. He insisted on having a brass band and not a DJ. And he also insisted on having it outside. And it was on the cliff above the ocean, but that day there was a seven state power outage.

Leah Longbrake:

Oh gosh.

Barb Stitzer:

And so, all the brides that were in the ballrooms, their lights were out. They didn't have any dancing music. And I didn't even know. I didn't even know that the power was out until ... We had this tent that had a chandelier in it. I was like, "That's odd, the chandelier isn't on". And my husband looked at me and he's like, "Barb, the power's been out for like six hours."

Leah Longbrake:

You were just so happy, nothing else mattered.

Barb Stitzer:

Yeah. It was amazing. I'm extremely happily married. I was engaged seven times.

Leah Longbrake:

Oh my gosh.

Barb Stitzer:

I know a lot about that side of it.

Leah Longbrake:

Wow. Seven times. So your husband was the eighth and the lucky one.

Barb Stitzer:

He's the seventh and the lucky one.

Leah Longbrake:

Oh, seventh, okay. Oh, lucky seven.

Barb Stitzer:

Yeah.

Leah Longbrake:

Now you're in Northeast Ohio. And you decided to start the magazine, a lot based off of your experience with people not wanting to be open to diversity and inclusivity. And what has been the feedback since you've started the magazine?

Barb Stitzer:

We've had an incredible amount of great feedback. I mean, of course there are people who have different ideals than we do, and that's absolutely fine, but the vast majority of our vendors and brides and grooms are just so thrilled that we filled this niche.

Leah Longbrake:

Working with different vendors, how do you approach making sure that they are a vendor that will be open and inclusive for other couples?

Barb Stitzer:

I'm really open about it. This is interesting, I don't think I'm going to say this well, but I've spent my life "passing" for being just any religion. And when I was little, someone sprayed a swastika on my house.

Leah Longbrake:

Oh, my gosh.

Barb Stitzer:

My dad washed it off or painted over it and then they did it again. And they did it every Saturday night for like a year. And they put "Jew" on it really big. And I think if you're someone who "passes", you miss a lot of prejudice or maybe you see a lot more prejudice just from people who are just saying words without looking at you and going, "Oh, you might be one of those words".

Barb Stitzer:

The person that I dated before my husband was extremely prejudiced and I didn't know it. And she didn't find out that I was Jewish until ... And I didn't know, because we dated for 10 years. So my parents knew that he was not my religion. And he came to temple with us and I went to church with them and I just thought that's the way it is. But when the rabbi came in for the rehearsal, she said, "Why is he here?" And I said, "Oh, well, the rabbi is going to be here. And then the priest will be there". And she was like, "What?" And I was like, "What?" And she was someone that I called mom, we were very close and she's like, "You filthy kike, how dare you come and sully my blood and my bloodline". And I was standing there with my mouth open, my fiance walked in and he was like, "What?" And I'm like, "What?" And he goes, "Oh my gosh, she knows".

Leah Longbrake:

Oh my gosh, that is traumatic. Someone that you've known for 10 years, one, he didn't tell his mother that you are of Jewish faith. And two, for her to react like that, you dodged a bullet, not being a part of that family, that's for sure. But, oh my gosh, that's painful.

Barb Stitzer:

I don't know. I mean, maybe the magazine is me healing these wounds and hoping that this never happens to anyone again. I see people as people. People are people.

Leah Longbrake:

Absolutely. And I love that you mentioned that maybe it's a form of your healing, but the best way to, I think, to heal is by helping. You helping others is also going to help you.

Barb Stitzer:

Yes, I think so.

Leah Longbrake:

Spreading the goodness.

Barb Stitzer:

I think so. I like that.

Leah Longbrake:

Now that you've been a part of weddings and planning your own wedding and working in the industry for years, are you seeing the more acceptance now?

Barb Stitzer:

I think so. I think so much is changing and I have to say, I don't think that people went, "Oh, I'm going to offend someone", but now people are really aware. Yes, I am going to offend someone if I go in that direction and you can'. Everybody needs to learn a new way of speaking. And a new way of thinking, and I feel like the world is changing and it's changing very quickly. Sometimes my daughters and I will be like, I'll be like, "Hey, texting was in your lifetime". And I want to say to them, no prejudice happened in your lifetime.

Leah Longbrake:

I hope that we're all able to say that for the younger generations.

Barb Stitzer:

Oh, me too.

Leah Longbrake:

What are some trends that our couples listening can look forward to and should consider going into later 2021, but into 2022 wedding season?

Barb Stitzer:

Well, of course smaller weddings are becoming very trendy. A, because of COVID and B, sometimes people start going ... I'm from LA and my husband's from Chicago. And he's like, "Well, how many people are you inviting?" And I was like, "Oh, like 150". He's like, "Well, I'm inviting 150." And sometimes [crosstalk 00:14:33].

Leah Longbrake:

300 person wedding. Wow.

Barb Stitzer:

Yeah. Those were the days. But I think now, people are starting to go, I want the people that I know and love now, and I'm going to know and love forever. As opposed to my best friend's sister's, niece's, son-in-law's babysitter.

Leah Longbrake:

Right.

Barb Stitzer:

Yeah, that is a huge trend. I think that outdoor weddings, even the in Northeast Ohio are becoming more and more popular. I've seen like tent rentals going up a lot. I think barn weddings have been really huge for a long time. And I see lots of people shifting from that.

Barb Stitzer:

The average wedding spend in Ohio is $28,000, which is easily a good down payment on a house.

Leah Longbrake:

Oh, I could attest. I was up there and I kept my wedding small. It adds up really fast. You think that a little under 100 people and it wouldn't cost as much and it can still be close to $30,000. And you're just like, how does this happen?

Barb Stitzer:

There's just so many little small fun things that you can order and get and personalize to have and give. It is, it's overwhelming.

Leah Longbrake:

Yeah. And you have to consider your venue and all the costs with that. And these are the big ticket things, your venue, your photographer. We were big about photography and videography. So we put a little extra into that. It all adds up and you have to consider all the ... You just see the initial blanket or amount of a venue cost or a photographer, but you don't consider all the little tiny details. The tips, the gratuities, the taxes, I bring it up on the show, I feel like every other episode, but stamps, the different things that you don't consider, but they end up being costly.

Barb Stitzer:

True.

Leah Longbrake:

Factoring gifts for your bridal party or your parents.

Barb Stitzer:

If you want to put a gift basket in an out of town person's hotel room for the honeymoon, it's that kind of thing. It just gets crazy.

Leah Longbrake:

Yeah. With hotel rooms, what's your tip, your advice, for couples if they want to do hotel blocks for their guests?

Barb Stitzer:

Well, I say do it. We did a lot of rooms at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel and it was really expensive, but it was so awesome. It was so nice having everybody there. The night before, we did our rehearsal dinner and then my girls and I went underneath the tent and they were putting up the chandelier and we were laying on our backs under the chandelier. And we were laughing and remembering things. And I say, if you can swing it or even if you don't pay for everybody to do a block so that everybody can get to know each other, that's another new thing. It's new-ish, but something that's really caught on this year

is when people say, don't pick a side, just sit down because we are all family now. If you spend a long weekend together before the actual wedding, you're going to get to know people on both sides. And it just makes it so much nicer down the line. It isn't divided, it's all together.

Leah Longbrake:

Yeah. I mean, if you have the money, obviously you can cover other's hotel rooms, but I don't think most family and friends expect you to cover it. But as long as you have rooms blocked off, so they know that they can get a room, obviously by a certain day. Keep in mind that hotels will make a cutoff date so they don't get screwed over. But I agree with you. We did hotel room blocks at the Weston in downtown Cleveland, and we just paid for our room, obviously. I stayed the night before with my grandma and then the room got converted over to being our suite. Yeah, that was so precious. I'm so glad I have that memory of my time with her frolicking around Cleveland and then spending the night, getting to hang out with gram and her keeping my nerves calm. So the night of the wedding, when we came back to the hotel room, they were ... I don't even know how many friends and family ended up staying there, but we ended up having an after party in the hotel lobby and it was so fun.

Barb Stitzer:

Oh, we did too. That's so funny.

Leah Longbrake:

Did you?

Barb Stitzer:

Yeah.

Leah Longbrake:

It's just so fun and relaxed and you're just sipping drinks and just all the planning is done and you're just with your family and friends and highly recommend doing it.

Barb Stitzer:

Absolutely.

Leah Longbrake:

What's your final piece of advice for couples planning their wedding?

Barb Stitzer:

I think it's really important to pick one or two things that you're not going to budge on. And each of you have them and each of you give in to the other person. It's really important that you are there for each other that way anyway. My husband and I are like, we're not allowed to be mad at the same time. For me, the photographer, I'm a photographer so that was very important for me and for my husband, as I said, being outdoors and with the brass band was very important to him. And you have to just go. Things are going to happen. Things are going to go wrong on the day of your wedding. But so what?

Leah Longbrake:

Some of them make the best stories.

Barb Stitzer:

Yeah, it makes a great story and you're not just gunning for this one day. You're in the long haul of the rest of your lives. So let the small stuff go, enjoy the process. If you're not enjoying it, you just need to take a step back, sit down, and just relax and then come back to it another time because this is a wonderful time in your life. And it should be a wonderful time in your life.

Leah Longbrake:

Absolutely.

Barb Stitzer:

And if it's not, don't do it.

Leah Longbrake:

Right?

Barb Stitzer:

And if you're going, "He'd be so perfect if only ... Oh, I would love it so much if only." He's not the right guy for you. Get rid of him.

Leah Longbrake:

Did you have that moment? Because you said you've been engaged.

Barb Stitzer:

Oh, I have had that many times.

Leah Longbrake:

You saw the red flags and said, "Nope. Not doing it".

Barb Stitzer:

Yep.

Leah Longbrake:

Listen to your gut.

Barb Stitzer:

Yeah.

Leah Longbrake:

All right. My final question for you is the fun one. I went to know Barb, what is your all-time favorite wedding movie or movie that features a wedding?

Barb Stitzer:

Okay. I don't know the name of it, but it was with the Cameron Diaz and Julia Roberts.

Leah Longbrake:

Oh, My Best Friend's Wedding.

Barb Stitzer:

My Best Friend's Wedding. That was beautiful. I cry and I laugh every single time I watch it.

Leah Longbrake:

Do you have a favorite scene in the movie?

Barb Stitzer:

Oh Cameron Diaz trying to sing, yeah.

Leah Longbrake:

So the karaoke scenes.

Barb Stitzer:

Say a little prayer for you. [crosstalk 00:23:09] singing that part.

Leah Longbrake:

That's so good. And I have to say with that movie, Julia Roberts' bridesmaid's dress is one of my favorite movie bridesmaids dresses. That purple looks so chic and cool.

Barb Stitzer:

Oh yeah.

Leah Longbrake:

Barb, how can we get more information on you and Northeast Ohio Weddings magazine?

Barb Stitzer:

Well, you can email me at [email protected] or go on our website at northeastohioweddingsmagazine.com or our Instagram or Facebook at Northeast Ohio Weddings magazine.

Leah Longbrake:

Thank you so much for being here.

Barb Stitzer:

Oh my gosh, it was my pleasure. Sure. Thank you so much for having me.

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