First and foremost, marriage means commitment. It’s about family and loyalty and love.
So not only should one’s wedding day be special, it should be extra special. Outside of perhaps the birth of a child, it should be the best day of your life.
It’s the jumping-off point for a couple’s blissful life as one. Sure, there are many great times ahead, but that wedding day is where it all originated from.
That’s the concept upon which WareHouse 435 has been founded.
All photographs by Will Trostel.
WareHouse 435 is Lebanon County’s newest venue for conducting and staging special events, none of which is more special than a wedding. It’s the kind of place you can drive past in a few years and the kids in the backseat can point out the window and say, ‘That’s where mommy and daddy got married!.’
“I think you could get married anywhere,” said Len Simniskis, who, along with his wife Suzi, owns WareHouse 435. “It comes down to who can do it well. I feel like our customers are folks who don’t want a banquet hall. It’s someone who wants a little more history, a little more rustic feel.
“I think they’re looking for a unique place to host their ceremony,” Simniskis added. “They’re looking for a place to put their stake in the ground. We’re trying to provide them with the best service and a quality experience. I think our customers want to celebrate their lives, even if it costs a little more than a church and a fire hall.”
Located at 435 Willow Street in Lebanon, at the site of the former Hidden Still Spirits building, the WareHouse 435 experience is rooted in the past, while featuring all the modern amenities. WareHouse 435’s building and set-up allows for everything involving a wedding to be conducted on site, from the ceremony to the reception, from the preparations to the picture-takings.
The concept allows bride and groom to focus on each other — and not logistics — and to help family, friends and guests to feel comfortable and welcomed.
“The upside is that your guests don’t have to travel to two different destinations,” said Simniskis. “It’s a place where they’re there for the whole event. It’s just convenient for time, and for your guests. But it’s also convenient for the bride and groom. The best part is that there’s nothing like this in our area.
“My wife and I agree that we just want to provide a great experience, a great time for our clients,” added Simniskis. “It’s a place where you can come celebrate life and talk with your friends. We don’t want it to be a four-wall building. I hope others can see our vision. We’re just trying to do our best.”
With nearly 3,000 square feet on the main floor, about the same amount of space downstairs and another 2,700 square feet in an adjoining dock room, WareHouse 435 can comfortably accommodate a party of up to 170 guests. The character of the 100-year-old building creates an ambiance and atmosphere perfect for weddings, but also for anniversaries, birthdays, holiday parties, and every type of special occasion.
“We were going for an industrial chic feel,” said Simniskis. “The inside features metal walls, rusted steel, exposed duct work and chandeliers. We just liked that feel. Nothing too fancy. Nothing too extravagant.
“We are willing to host whatever you want to celebrate,” continued Simniskis. “The questions is: ‘Are we the right fit for you? Are we what you want?’ If you want live music, you can have it. We have vendors we use, but we don’t supply those things in-house.”
The Simniskises purchased the Hidden Still building in October of 2019 from former owner David Stein, and began placing their own fine-tuning touches on it in September of 2020. Because of previous renovations Stein had done to the structure, there wasn’t a lot of work required for the Simniskises to undertake in order to keep it true to its historic charm.
“Our initial draw was to the building itself,” said Simniskis. “We probably went about it in the non-traditional way. When we bought it, we never took the restaurant concept off the table, but as we were brainstorming with what to do with it, we stumbled across this idea. So yeah, maybe it was a leap of faith.
“I’m also in real estate, and we found out from a friend that David was looking for a buyer,” continued Simniskis. “It was a perfect match initially, but COVID-19 pushed us back. With David being held up a little bit, it delayed some of the ideas we wanted to accomplish. But we haven’t done any kind of lengthy renovations. He did a great job of renovating the first floor. One of the things we fell in love with was the exposed brick on the first floor. Everyone enjoys the history of the building.”
In March of 2020, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic threw the Simniskises a curveball. The new owners were forced to pause WareHouse 435’s operations due to mitigation restrictions, but prior to that they had enjoyed some initial success with a handful of weddings and special events.
Weddings may be the ultimate in gatherings.
“We hosted our first wedding in January of ’20, and it was a huge success,” said Simniskis, a 47-year-old resident of Bethel Township. “We also had a few corporate events and Christmas parties. Once COVID-19 took hold in March or April, we totally cancelled our summer bookings. Since then, we’ve just been complying with the COVID-19 restrictions.
“Right now, we’re still doing tours,” Simniskis continued. “We’re still booking weddings for the summer and fall. We have conversations about what they might look like. We’re trying to be flexible with wedding dates, and asking clients if they would be willing to go to next year at the same time.”
The history of WareHouse 435’s building is what makes it such a unique venue.
The building at the corner of Fifth and Willow Streets downtown was originally built by Reading brothers James and William Yocum in 1918 for the purpose of making cigar cutters. Over the years, it has also been home to the Reading Foundry and Hauck Manufacturing.
The building had also served as a warehouse and sat vacant for many years before Hidden Stills Spirits began operating out of it.
“We’ll gladly host parties from outside the county,” said Simniskis. “But it’s for us. It’s for Lebanon. We’re local. We chose here because we wanted to start a commercial business. We’re plugged in downtown. If you’re going to help the downtown area, I think you’ve got to start with a business that’s viable and sustainable.
“A lot of it has to do with how much are you willing to put your ideas and thoughts on paper, and then execute it,” concluded Simniskis. “There is a risk there. There was this feeling when we first bought it like, ‘What did we do?’ We’re also involved with rental properties across town, and it seemed like the next natural step. It’s all kind of fallen into place. We’re doing our best to wait it [COVID-19] out, until we get the green light to do what we do. I wouldn’t call myself an entrepreneur. You follow your dreams in life and if it leads to money, great.”
Perhaps the greatest element of the entrepreneurial spirit is flexibility.
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