Try to grasp this one: a wedding reception in a furniture store.
A version of those very words flashed onto my computer screen Friday morning, requiring that I stare at them, perplexed, for a good minute or so. No way was this for real, I thought to myself.
Was the 32-year-old mayor of Downingtown, Josh Maxwell, really about to hold his wedding-day bash inside a store packed with high-end recliners, sofas, cocktail tables, and queen beds on the road that connects Philadelphia’s western suburbs to Amish country? The suburban Philly pol in this small town has a lively Twitter account. But surely, his internet wedding page had been hacked on the eve of taking his vows.
Dane Decor co-owner Drew Hamilton was orchestrating crews as they emptied portions of his Downingtown, Pa., store of furniture on Friday, Aug. 3, 2018. This part of the store, occupying the sanctuary of an 18th-century church, will be the dance floor for a wedding reception for the young mayor of his town.
My next step was to do what any human with an otherwise full life would do with that sort of information.
I cold-called the furniture store. Got a lovely saleswoman on the phone.
“Hi,” I said. “I was wondering … do you guys have an events business over there? Do you book out your showroom for weddings and things?”
“No,” she said, but then I got transferred to co-owner Drew Hamilton, who explained it all in its gloriously quirky coolness.
Crews were clearing furniture off the showroom floor as we spoke — they’d been on site since 7 a.m., paid for by Maxwell and his fiancee. The crews were busy dismantling display beds and hauling them out. They were also dragging dressers out of the church sanctuary; did I know that part of this landmark retailer occupies what used to be a Presbyterian church built in the mid-1800s?
I couldn’t look away.
A story was in order.
And now, here it is.
Doug Strang of Taylor rental stacks chairs inside a furniture store for the Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018, wedding reception for Downingtown, Pa., Mayor Josh Maxwell and Blair Thornburgh at Dane Decor.
Yes, the mayor of Downingtown will be drinking and dancing Saturday night with 200 guests inside a furniture store in his hometown, in a place just two blocks from where his mom still lives. And, if all goes well at the ceremony beforehand at a church in Chestnut Hill, he will do it alongside Blair Thornburgh, 28, the woman I saw him kiss briefly in the mayor’s vintage Volvo before she dashed off toward Philly for the odds and ends that make up the final sprint toward Wedding Day.
You could say a lot about this story or you could say a little. What I will say is this: I got the feeling, after rushing out to meet and talk to everyone, that this is about more than just a cool venue or the big day between a young man and the woman he fell in love with. Having this shebang at Dane Decor, of all places, is also about the bonds between a still-young booster-mayor of this former paper-mill town, and the men who once employed him while he was in grad school. Men who run a family business whose fortunes expanded and, more recently, shrunk, but who always believe in Downingtown.
Maxwell gets to party in a neat old building. The Hamilton family that now runs just one of what was once a chain of high-end modern-style furniture stores across the region gets to showcase a funky and still-kicking space to hundreds of potential customers. The bride, granddaughter of former Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh, gets to show her out-of-town friends the charming side of her new suburban address.
Everyone, in other words, is smitten.
“It’s a gorgeous building,” the mayor told me after he and Blair agreed, on super-short notice, to meet me at Dane. “It looks and feels like a church inside.”
Hired work crews spent hours on Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, clearing portions of a Downingtown, Pa., furniture store of merchandise for a wedding reception the next night. Part of the store is in a historic church that has been Dane Decor furniture store for decades.
It’s a wacky building from the outside, with a church steeple sticking up from an otherwise boxy cube of fairly new construction. The old sanctuary is on the second floor and has stained-glass windows and a choir vestibule where, Drew told me, they usually display a bed set that, as luck would have it, seems to be the only model that never sells.
Dance-floor tiles will be going down on the sanctuary floor. Musicians will play where a choir long ago sang hymns — before this place was desanctified for retail in the 1970s.
“It’s a really interesting place to put a band,” the mayor said. “Blair and I will be able to walk home from our wedding reception.”
A short staircase leading out of the sanctuary takes you to a wraparound mezzanine that overlooks the first-floor showroom. The mezzanine was being emptied of furniture as banquet tables and chairs were being brought in.
Dane Decor, like Maxwell, has called this borough home since well before a redevelopment wave brought brew pubs and a slew of younger residents into town over the last seven or so years.
“One-third of Downingtown,” Maxwell told me, “is under 35.”
Imagine all those 200 guests spilling red wine and barbecue sauce onto the furniture that will remain on the showroom floor Saturday night. Then imagine not worrying about it. Dane’s owners, one of whom, Hank Hamilton, is like a mentor to the mayor, see only positives here.
Josh Maxwell and Blair Thornburgh pose for an Instagram photo a day before their wedding reception inside this church-turned-furniture store in suburban Philly.
“When he brought [the idea] to us, we sort of debated amongst ourselves,” Drew Hamilton said. “But at the end of the day we thought, how cool would it be to have a wedding here? Full circle for the church.”