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Thousands of marriages happen every day in the United States. But only one wedding took place at an REI store on a December day in 2017.
Nicole Armstead-Williams and Caleb Williams first met in 2010 at an open mic night at a bar in Washington, D.C.—Nicole was working and Caleb was performing with his band. But they didn’t go on their first date until a few years later, after Nicole saw Caleb’s band play again and reintroduced herself. “It sounds cliché, and he never believes me, but I absolutely knew after the first date: This person is going to significantly change my life. I knew that I wanted to be with him every day after that first day,” Nicole said.
They both believe one of the things that keeps them together is their love of the outdoors, which is why their honeymoon took place in Colorado—backpacking, snowshoeing and enjoying the great outdoors. “It has played a role into positively shaping our relationship, our mental health—especially depression and anxiety—and our growth as individuals,” Nicole said.
That’s why, when they decided to get married, they wanted an outdoor venue. They thought if their love could weather all the elements (and it had), their ceremony should reflect that. Nicole and Caleb were setting up their gift registry at the REI DC Flagship store when they stumbled upon the outdoor courtyard. They had looked at many venues, but nothing stood out. It was the nature murals on the walls that solidified it: the outdoor space at this REI store was the perfect place.
When many of the guests found out Nicole and Caleb were getting married at REI, they didn’t know what to think or what they were supposed to wear. Would they be married in the retail store? If so, what department? But when the wedding day came and they entered the REI courtyard lit with candles and glowing fire pits, it made sense. It was the first wedding ceremony REI has ever held. “It was such an honor to be able to see the ceremony come together,” said Stephanie Piperno, outdoor programs manager for the DC Flagship store. “On the big day, the winter solstice, the courtyard was decorated with candles and people gathered around the warmth of the fire to celebrate the special couple.”
For Nicole and Caleb, the ceremony was about more than their journey as a couple. “It’s important to show your love for each other and for being outside and being able to appreciate life,” Caleb said. “That’s one of the things that brings us together—being able to appreciate the small natural things.”
“REI gave us a way to narrate a different type of love story. As a Black person, I don’t often get to see Black love stories modeled in our community and I don’t often get to see minority groups or other marginalized communities given access to the outdoors—but our love stories and our adventures exist and they are beautiful. When I think about the outdoors, there’s so much room,” Nicole said.