Local wedding planner and event planner Hilda Abbott has been helping brides realize their big day dreams for over 30 years. But at the end of this year, she will have to close the doors to one of her big dreams - the Always Banquet and Conference Facility.
The Always center is a venue unique to the area, offering 10,000 square feet of ballroom and picturesque grounds to stage not only weddings also many birthdays, corporate events, trade shows and countless civic group meetings and events. Abbott and her team, who she credits as key to her success over the years, handled all aspects of an event from full-service catering, flowers, décor and the piece de resistance at most weddings, the cake, through the event planning arm, Hilda’s Special Occasions.
When the Always Center opened in 2004, business was booming and revenues were doubling every year.
Fast forward five years and Abbott is closing shop due to the downturn in the economy and personal disappointment – the end of a 30-year marriage to her high school sweetheart. Though Always has remained relatively busy, weddings and special events, the prime rib of the business, are down by roughly 30 percent. She said her biggest concern is the 17 employees who will soon be out of a job. She takes her responsibility to “sustain their livelihood” to heart.
Abbott began her career in event planning as a “flunkey” for a local florist right out of Rockdale County High School before getting her business license a few years later. She soon focused on weddings as many of her friends were getting married during that time, leading to her foray into wedding cakes and catering.
As a true pioneer in her field, Abbott carved out a niche by identifying a need and fulfilling it. Long before the term “bridezilla” was coined, she noticed brides needed an advocate to pull off their vision. “Girls begin fantasizing about their wedding day when they’re 5 or 6 years old. I wanted to be the person girls could come to when they grew up and make as many of their dreams come true as possible,” she related. In fact, she debunks the whole notion of “bridezilla.” “They don’t bother me because I listen and give them what they want, that’s why I was successful… customer service,” she said.
But beyond weddings, Abbott’s event resume also includes decorating for an 800-person celebration Pratt Industries hosted with V.I.P. attendees including former President George H. W. Bush. This was a job she landed 10 days before the event when another contractor pulled out. Using the proceeds from that job and other assets, she purchased a small house, ironically the former home of a minister where many wedding ceremonies had taken place, to use as her first floral “store front.” In the first five years, Abbott doubled revenues every year, leading her to open the Always facility in 2004.
The disappointment over the void that will be left is felt throughout the community. Deborah Foster, a client with Richard Sparkmon & Associates, said “Abbott’s will be missed by our team. They have been keeping us well fed for years with weekly lunches - especially the chicken salad croissants and of course her fabulous desserts.”
The Center will fulfill all its commitments through the end of the year, said Abbott, but the future of the Always Banquet Center is uncertain.
The Always Banquet Center is located at 1613 Milstead Ave. in Conyers. Hilda’s Special Occasions can be reached at 770-922-7513 or at www.hsoalways.com.