It was admittedly a slow start in 2014 for The Clever Barn, a party venue tucked away on a quiet road in rural Christian County.
Owners Randy and Laura Walden could count on one hand the number of events they hosted that year: three graduation parties and two weddings during the first seven months in operation.
“We were thrilled with that because nobody knew us,” Laura says of their venture in Clever started practically on a whim.
Word of mouth has since powered business for the barn turned event space, helped by social media.
Bookings have increased steadily, Laura says, with more than 65 events held last year. Seating capacity exceeds 100 in the two-story structure – about 1,200 square feet on the first level and 900 square feet upstairs.
“It’s roomier than it looks,” Randy says of the rustic building. “It looks kind of smallish until you get inside.”
While weddings are common at The Clever Barn, the Waldens say plenty of other celebrations – birthdays, family reunions, anniversaries, retirements and baby showers – are regulars too. Laura says weddings made up a third of last year’s total event list.
“We’re a party venue that also does weddings,” she says.
Randy says much of the weddings they host are smaller and more intimate in nature.
“We don’t get those big, dressy weddings,” he adds.
The Waldens didn’t have any party planning experience prior to starting the business. The couple moved to their current home in 2004, and Randy says the only reason he wanted to buy the property was for the barn and silo.
“I had no intention of turning it into this,” he says.
The original intent was to have a large workshop and man cave, and it served that purpose for several years with the couple hosting a few parties during that time.
Laura saw the potential and mentioned it to Randy.
“I thought she was nuts at first,” Randy says.
In October 2013, the couple set out to convert the barn to an event venue. Randy, who is a self-employed contractor and HVAC installer, handled much of the work. He says he previously was employed at F & S Master Air in Springfield, but prefers to work on his own.
Interior decor at The Clever Barn features a lot of antiques, including a collection of hubcaps and glass bottles. Randy’s love of music also influences the look, as a poster of The Beatles and a custom clock featuring an REO Speedwagon vinyl record and album cover – a gift from friends – are among his favorites. A pool table and big screen TV also are available for inside entertainment.
Outside the barn, a spot for bonfires is set up, along with family-oriented activities, such as a putting green, bowling area and playground equipment.
The Waldens have invested more than $50,000 toward improvements, including a new bar area, set to be complete by month’s end. The couple declined to disclose revenues, but Laura notes money they earn from events goes back into the business for barn projects. As a result, they don’t yet take a salary.
“We do all the work ourselves,” Laura says, noting she quit her job five months ago as a medical record processor at Ozarks Community Hospital Inc. in Nixa to focus on the venue full time. “We don’t have any other employees, so it’s just us to do every little thing – to mow, to paint, to build. Marketing, landscaping, everything you see is us.”
Eventually, they’d like to add a staff member, she says, and further down the road they envision their 17-year-old daughter Ivie taking over the family business.
Time to relax
Barn weddings are not unique to the Waldens’ property, as a number of other venues in the area offer similar services. Among them are Sycamore Creek Family Ranch in Branson, Hope Springs Farm in Hartville and Timber Line Barn in Buffalo.
Laura says she wanted The Clever Barn to be a venue to make all ages happy that wasn’t just focused on weddings. Randy says one of its unique events was hosting Galena High School’s Project Graduation last year, which ran from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The post-graduation event is an adult-supervised, alcohol-free party.
The Waldens even hold their own regular celebrations, such as Waldoween, a Halloween-themed costume event. Tonia Hoffman first visited The Clever Barn for Waldoween in 2017 and returned again last year.
“It’s a full house for sure. There’s a lot of people there,” she says of the annual October gathering.
Hoffman also regularly attends a monthly Girls Night In social gathering with crafts and food that started in January.
The Waldens charge $1,750 to host weddings, with an hourly rate of $75 for all other private parties. The venue has a liquor license, so a cash bar is optional for a $200 booking fee and Laura as bartender.
With almost every weekend booked this year, she says the venue is on track to surpass 100 events during 2019. Visitors aren’t just Christian County residents either, she adds, as they also draw residents from Springfield, Bolivar, Branson and Republic.
The vibe at The Clever Barn is intended to be relaxed and informal, which the Waldens say fits their personalities.
“It’s relaxing. Nothing’s perfect and that’s not what we were shooting for,” Laura says. “We wanted to be different and unique and that’s exactly what we are. If we were looking for a place to go out and have a party, this is what we’d want.”
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