Floods in Manayunk threatened their pandemic-prone wedding, but friends moved up to make it work

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Hannah Liebow and Jeff Grimes were among many couples who postponed their wedding in 2020 due to the pandemic.

What they did not expect was another obstacle due to massive floods from tropical storm Ida – or the generous efforts of others in Philadelphia to help them carry out a great party just a few days later.

As someone working in the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Liebow said she already knew in March that their 100-guest wedding scheduled for November would not happen.

The U.S. registered about 40% fewer marriages last year compared to 2019, according to Wedding Report, an industrial research firm, as couples navigated security restrictions on capacity, venue closures, supply chain problems and unpredictable travel.

Liebow and Grimes, 32 and 30 years old respectively, had this year moved their big day to Saturday of Labor Day weekend. It was to take place at the Manayunk Brewing Company, overlooking the Schuylkill River.

The Wednesday before, September 1, the remains of Ida hit Philadelphia. The river swelled as seldom before and ran over its banks.

“I’m up at 5 o’clock watching the news,” Grimes said, describing Thursday morning when the family was already on their way to Philly for the big event. “The camera pans for the Manayunk Brewing Company underwater. I’m like, they will not be able to have anything there.”

Manayunk Brewing’s banquet and sales coordinator, Paris Rose-Antonogiannis, had warned them the night before it could happen.

The restaurant and venue were hit hard in August 2020 by Isaias, and the cleanup took about two weeks, Rose-Antonogiannis said. But Ida, who according to the National Weather Service swelled Schuylkillen in the city on September 2 to its highest ridge since October 1869, has been tearing down the place for a much longer time.

“With most of the hurricanes in my lifetime, we have been able to clean up within a month,” said Rose-Antonogiannis, who started working in the family business when she was a teenager and has been back for the past 6 years. “This is the first hurricane I’ve ever experienced where we’ve had to empty the entire restaurant and rebuild from scratch.”

The brewery is above flood level, and is covered by insurance, but it is not the restaurant. Manayunk Development Corporation, FEMA and city agencies have helped with access to grants and other assistance, Rose-Antonogiannis said. If the restaurant receives newly purchased equipment according to plan, it expects to reopen the third week of November.

In addition to Grimes’ and Liebows, two other weddings were planned at Manayunk Brewing Co. that weekend. Although couple understood that it was not her fault, Rose-Antonogiannis said it was difficult to deliver the news.

“You listen to these people’s plans and hopes and dreams for their wedding day,” she said. “How do you tell someone the day before or two days before, ‘Hey, we want to flood’?”

There was a lot of crying from all sides. Then the planner started helping all the couples re-plan.

Jeff Grimes and Hannah Liebow in October 2021
Yvonne Dennis for Billy Penn

Although Liebow and Grimes would eventually be reimbursed, the couple had set aside over $ 30,000 for the entire affair. Where should they find another meeting place in 48 hours during a holiday weekend where companies were still struggling with COVID-related staff shortages and supply problems?

The couple, who live in Brewerytown, started calling. Grimes, a longtime chef in the city, reached out to the friend who had actually encouraged them to start dating, back in 2015, when all three were working together at a restaurant in the Cira Center in University City.

“I have the biggest question,” Grimes told their friend Greg LaBarbera, now general manager at Clementine’s Stable Cafe on North Broad.

Clementine’s, another restaurant from the team behind Tela’s at Fairmount, had first opened in August 2020. Inside, it seats about 130 people and outside 40-50. Due to capacity constraints throughout the spring and summer, it had only hosted a few major events and had never hosted a wedding when Grimes made his emergency request.

Greg LaBarbera, general manager of Clementine's Stable Cafe on North Broad Street
Yvonne Dennis for Billy Penn

Undaunted, LaBarbera checked out the weekend’s reservations. There were only a few until Saturday night so he would be able to talk to customers about moving them. Next, he called the restaurant owners. It was a trip. The couple’s wedding planner, Robin Jenkins from Brown Bird Events, contacted all the vendors and told them about the new wedding venue.

One last problem: Clementines lost power for a few hours the night before the wedding as some pockets in the city continued to recover after the storm. It came back in time for brunch that morning and LaBarbera was blowing out.

The owners of Clementines Staldcafé let the couple use an apartment upstairs as a sort of bridal suite, and the event took place on a sunny, 79-degree September Saturday that could not have been more beautiful.

“It was amazing,” Grimes said. “The food was fantastic. The service, alt. “

LaBarbera was bursting with pride. “You have to remember that it is not the space or where everything happens that is going to define your wedding day and make your wedding special,” he said. “It’s the people.”

The wedding party at The Rail Park
Courtesy Jeff Grimes and Hannah Liebow

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