'Til death do us part: Wedding fair operator's death leaves exhibitors out thousands
Gary Meister, the man behind Vancouver Wedding Shows for 42 years, died in debt
The 43rd Annual Wedding Fair, scheduled for two days in January at the Westin Bayshore Hotel, has been cancelled after the death of the event's founder, Gary Meister.
The 72-year-old owner of Vancouver Wedding Shows died in August.
"We get at least one wedding out of going to the fair," said Eva Currell, general manager of the Croatian Cultural Centre, in Vancouver.
Meister's death and cancellation of the event has left the cultural centre out $5,000 that was paid in April to secure a spot at the fair. It will not be returned because Meister's company has no assets and significant debts owed to banks.
It's estimated dozens of would-be exhibitors put down deposits or paid in full to participate in the wedding fair and are now left with no event and no money back.
The cultural centre has participated in the long-running event every year for over a decade. Currell said she first heard of Meister's death Nov. 9, in an email from his brother, Dale Meister.
Out of respect, she says, she waited a few weeks before responding with condolences and questions about the fair's future and refunds for the cancelled show.
Currell says Meister's brother wrote back there will be no refunds available to exhibitors. As well, he wrote, significant secured debts owing to banks will not be fully paid out.
"I feel horrible that he passed but it just doesn't seem ethical. It doesn't seem right," said Currell.
Dale Meister says his brother was the sole shareholder of Vancouver Wedding Shows.
He declined a further interview.
CBC has learned there is no executor of Meister's estate which could mean he left no will or no adequate will.
A check with the Public Guardian and Trustee of B.C. shows no record of a referral to administer the estate.
Operators of the Croatian Cultural Centre are seeking legal advice.
The terms and conditions of the Vancouver Wedding Shows' contract say if the show is cancelled for any reason, management of the show is not responsible.
One Vancouver lawyer who specializes in contract law doubts exhibitors will have any luck getting their money back in a court fight.
Joel Payne says risk is an inherent part of business.
That's why, he says, courts rarely, if ever, bail out businesses in situations like this one.
Payne says if the matter does end up in the hands of a receiver — if the company declares bankruptcy — secured creditors, like banks, will be paid first.
Exhibitors who, for the most part, are small business operators will still be out luck.
Vancouver Wedding Shows' website indicates it staged three events a year, one in October, one in January and one in March.
Charlotte Creed is out $800 that she paid to exhibit her health and wellness business at the fall event which was also cancelled.
"I know that there's other exhibitors that were out far more than me, but it's still a lot of money. We have three young children," said Creed, who lives with her family in Nanaimo, B.C.
Creed and Currell both described Meister as "a lovely man" but are shocked by the state of his business after his death.
In his email to the Croatian Cultural Centre, Dale Meister apologized for the hardship. He told CBC he's a family member who is simply trying to help.
According to an obituary, Gary Meister is survived by his wife. a son, a daughter and grandchildren.
With files from Paisley Woodward