Jessica Atkinson and Barnett Pearlstein
March 17, 2018, in Philadelphia
In fall 2013, Barney’s roommate, Jay, invited his friend Norah to hang out at their Mount Airy apartment. Norah brought Jess, and Jess quickly became part of the group. Most weekends, half a dozen people would go to the movies, dinner, or a Phillies game. No matter who was hanging out, Jess and Barney always found themselves talking to each other.
“She just seemed like a really nice, down-to-earth girl,” he said. “She was easygoing, easy to talk to, and really pretty.”
“He is seriously the nicest person ever,” Jess said. “If any of his friends were having any type of struggle or problem, he would reach out to help them. He was always lending somebody a hand, and I really liked that.”
Recent breakups had left both romantically cautious, but about two months after they met, Jess told Norah she thought Barney was cute. Naturally, Norah told Jay, and Jay told Barney that Jess was definitely into him.
Barney invited her to dinner at Winnie’s Manayunk, a place he knew she favored. Her immediate yes led to the first time they were ever together without the group. “We were having such a great time, and from that point on, we knew we were going to end up together,” said Jess, now 31 and a Staples account manager.
Not exactly, Barney said. “I knew right away, because this girl is awesome,” said the now-33-year-old, a barback at McMenamin’s Tavern. “But she was a little more hesitant to jump into a relationship.”
They dated – no pressure, no labels – through the end of 2013, and by early 2014, Jess also was all-in. “I felt like I could really trust him, and he always had my back no matter what,” she said.
“She’s such a good friend, and we have such good chemistry,” Barney said. “I always wanted to be around her, and I had never really felt like that about a girl before.”
Their relationship grew even stronger when Barney’s mom, Kathryn, died after a period of declining health. His father, Martin, died when Barney was 10. “Jess was there for me through all of it,” Barney said. “She helped me with planning the funeral. She helped me clean out my mom’s house and sell it. I don’t know how I would have done any of that without her.”
In 2015, Jess, who grew up in Chestnut Hill, and Barney, who grew up in Mount Airy, got a Mount Airy apartment together, where they still live with cats Marley and Mya.
In February 2017, Barney asked Jess’s parents, Helen and Tom, for their blessing. They enthusiastically gave it, and Helen immediately took Barney the few blocks to Chestnut Hill Jewelers, where she knows a lady. A week later, Barney made a successful solo trip to the same jeweler and began planning an outing for Jess to one of their favorite places, the Franklin Institute.
“We were having a great time, and then we get to the heart exhibit, and it’s surrounded by children. There are like 100 screaming kids all around it,” Barney said.
“There is no way I’m going in there,” Jess told him then. And there was no way he could persuade her to without giving away that this was no typical outing. Barney was now in real danger of falling behind on his secret schedule. He had to think quickly.
As they left the museum, he saw the fountain at Logan Square. “Let’s go over there and call an Uber to take us to get some food,” he suggested. Barney gave himself a silent pep talk: “It’s a fountain, it’s romantic, and it’s pretty.”
“He started literally shaking,” Jess said. “I had no idea what was going on. Then he dropped to one knee.”
“So, will you marry me?” Barney asked.
She said yes, and they walked back to the Franklin, where a limo was waiting to take them to Moshulu. After dinner, they met up with friends, who rode with them to Philadoptables Love Potions — a charity event that raises money for the city’s homeless animals, which the couple attends every year.
It was so them
The couple established the feel of their wedding with a custom-made invitation that told their Philadelphia love story graphically. Among its many images are signs for the streets where each grew up; the Weaver’s Way Co-Op, above which Barney lived when their relationship reached forever proportions; and the Inn at Valley Green, where they regularly eat after one of their favorite local hikes.
Ceremony and reception for 125 took place in the greenhouse at the Fairmount Horticulture Center in Fairmount Park. It began with a memorial ceremony for Barney’s parents and other loved ones who have passed. Officiant Charles Cooper of Humbleman Weddings read a poem and the names of the honored, and the couple lit a candle.
The friends through whom they met were both in the wedding party; Norah was maid of honor and Jay a groomsman.
Before Jess and Barney exchanged vows, Barney’s Uncle Abraham read lyrics from Stevie Wonder’s “As.”
Just as time knew to move on since the beginning
And the seasons know exactly when to change
Just as kindness knows no shame
Know through all your joy and pain
That I’ll be loving you always
Musicians played an instrumental version of the same song before the ceremony began, and the DJ played Stevie’s version during the reception.
Before their first dance, Jess and Barney led guests in an enthusiastic rendering of the Eagles fight song. Rather than table numbers, guests looked for Philadelphia street signs. The centerpiece flowers were arranged in vintage Philadelphia bottles collected by the bride’s father. And the couple’s signature cocktails were a ginger-and-lime-flavored gin and tonic called the Philly Special, after the Eagles’ big Super Bowl play, and a pear juice and citrus vodka concoction they called the Pear Jawn.
Before the wedding, and even at the altar, Barney’s mind raced with small worries: The items still on his to-do list, where he should be standing, whether his voice would be loud enough. Then, their guests stood in unison as Jess began her walk toward him and he forgot about all of it. “We’re at the altar, and it’s really happening, and all I can see is her,” he said. “It was this great feeling.”
Jess had that same tunnel vision during their first dance. “I was just seeing him, but I could feel the love around us from all of our family and friends,” she said. “It felt so great, and we were so happy. And it was all hitting me then that we were married and going to spend the rest of our lives together.”
The budget crunch
A bargain: Luz, mother of bridesmaid Amber, made the cake as a gift to the couple. “It was amazing, and I loved it, and I still can’t believe it,” Jess said.
The flowers and decorations were created and arranged by four friends of Jess’s mom. One of them, Cee, also designed the couple’s invitation; another, Jin, served as wedding planner. “They work at Jefferson Hospital, and this is just something that Jin always wanted to do but had never done before.” He couple got an unbelievable price for gorgeous work, Jess said. “They were our lifeline,” Barney added.
The splurge: The couple hired SlowMo2Go to create a slow-motion video at the event. They had wondered whether it was worth the price or whether they should just get a photo booth. But the process was so much fun for guests – who got to goof off with fun props — and the results look rather like a rap video, Barney said. “It’s very epic.”
A week of hiking, sunsets, shopping, and eating in Santorini, Greece.
Behind the scenes
Officiant: Minister Charles Cooper, Humbleman Weddings, Philadelphia.
Venue: Fairmount Horticulture Center, Philadelphia.
Food: Starr Catering Group, Philadelphia.
Cake: Luz Cicone.
Music: Ben Ostroff, EBE Events and Entertainment, Philadelphia.
Photography: Haley Richter Photography, Philadelphia.
Videography/Videobooth: SlowMo2Go, Flourtown.
Flowers and Planning: Jin Kang.
Invitations: CeeScapes by Cee Hear.
Dress: Galina Signature, David’s Bridal in Plymouth Meeting.
Hair/Makeup: Artur Kirsh Salon at the Bellevue, Philadelphia.
Groom’s attire: Flocco’s Shoes, Clothes and Formal Wear, Conshohocken.
Transportation: Kevin Smith Transportation, Philadelphia.