When they first imagined their engagement photos, Alexandra Darch and Dylan Smith envisioned soft, intimate portraits with golden sunlight filtering through mossy oak trees.
Balloons, chips, cookies, shopping carts and grocery-store freezers were never part of the picture.
Until they were.
And the Lakeland couple couldn’t be happier with the results.
When rain scuttled plans to have their engagement photos taken at a nature preserve July 28 in Winter Haven, their photographer, Jennifer Goodlet, suggested switching to the place where Alexandra, 22, and Dylan, 24, first met — the Publix Super Market at Oak Bridge Square in Lakeland.
“It brought back a lot of emotions,” Alexandra said. “I think we both cried when we saw the photos.”
Unconventional, sure. Also, extraordinary.
As customers looked on, the pair frolicked in the aisles, exchanged kisses in the floral section, fed each other cookies from the bakery, pretended to fight over chip choices, balanced on shopping carts and locked lips behind a heart drawn with a finger on a freezer door.
“We got a ton of funny looks,” Alexandra said. “I think people were quite confused when they were going to grab their milk and their eggs and we’re standing there getting pictures. But then, a lot of people were saying, ‘You guys are so cute.’"
Alexandra thought the same thing when she first spotted Dylan at that same Publix in February 2017. She was working as a cashier when Dylan, who was being hired as a stock clerk, was being led on a tour of the store. She was immediately drawn to his light blue eyes. Dylan was dating someone else at the time but couldn’t help but notice the “beautiful” girl on Register 1.
Still, it was about three months before they first started talking with each other. Alexandra told Dylan that she doesn’t date people she works with. That changed about three months later. By July of the following year, they were engaged.
“As time went along,” Dylan says, “there was something special about her.”
On the morning of July 17, 2018, Dylan handed Alexandra some money and suggested she get a manicure and a pedicure. Then, he went to the local mall and purchased an engagement ring. He rushed to his parents’ house to show them the ring, then went to the home he was sharing with Alexandra to put together a scavenger hunt. When Alexandra reached the third location, a creek behind the home they shared, she reached toward Dylan to give him a hug. Instead, he stepped back, told her he loved her, and proposed.
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“It was a state of shock,” Alexandra says. “I wasn’t expecting it, so the first thing that came out of my mouth was, ‘Is this a joke?’”
Alexandra remembers being confused and jumping up and down, screaming. Dylan, meanwhile, stood with the ring box in his hand, waiting for an answer.
They now have a wedding date of Jan. 25, 2020.
“They are the absolute best,” says Goodlet, the photographer. “Two of the nicest people you will meet in your entire life. I adore them. They’re just super sweet, just really cool.”
Goodlet, who lives in Winter Haven, got to know Alexandra through Instagram. While following her account, she noticed that they liked a lot of the same things and went to some of the same restaurants. She would “like” Alexandra’s posts and leave occasional comments. When Alexandra and Dylan were looking for a photographer, Alexandra reached out to Goodlet. A phone call to set up the engagement shoot lasted 2-1/2 hours.
“We immediately connected and vibed well together, so it was awesome,” Goodlet said. “Our joke now is that we’re basically family because of how we got along.”
The original plan was to shoot the photos at Circle B Bar Reserve, a nature preserve between Lakeland and Winter Haven. The shoot was scheduled for 7 p.m., but Goodlet, who had a couple of sessions earlier that evening, noticed on her weather app that a storm cell was moving into the area. By 6:45, it was right over top of them.
Rather than wait out the rain in their cars, the group decided to grab a bite to eat. But as they made their way to Hibachi Express, a torrential downpour started. Goodlet began thinking about other plans. Her go-to backup option, Florida Southern College, with its pretty lights and covered walkways, would be washed out, too.
As it become apparent at dinner that the weather would not clear, Alexandra suggested postponing the shoot. But to Goodlet, rescheduling your engagement photo shoot was like rescheduling your wedding day.
She had one more, “crazy” idea.
“What about Publix?” she asked. “You met there. I worked there at one point. Why not?”
Alexandra and Dylan looked at each other.
“Whenever she first mentioned it, I was very skeptical," Dylan said. "You’ve got to be kidding me. There’s no way we can take a picture inside of a grocery store and it be romantic or sweet. But once I talked to Alex about it and what it would represent and then seeing the photos and how it brought us back to when we were first together and first working together, it kind of shows who we are and brings us back to how we first met.”
After receiving permission from the store, the group set off for Publix. It was 8 p.m. Thanks to the inclement weather and the 10 p.m. closing time, only a couple of customers were in the store. An employee working in the produce section questioned them politely, but they assured him they were allowed to be there. They stayed out of the way of customers and quickly replaced anything that they moved.
After seeing Alexandra and Dylan balancing on a shopping cart and then Goodlet approaching with her camera, one customer stopped the photographer and said, “I thought it would be the cutest (photo) ever. Then, I saw you with the camera.”
The freezer shot was the most difficult to get. Goodlet traced the heart on the freezer door, but it fogged up before she could take the shot. Alexandra gave it a try. So did Dylan. Finally, they realized that they could keep the image from fading if Goodlet stood one one side of the door and drew the heart, with Alexandra following her from the other side.
In addition to the freezer shot, Alexandra’s favorite is one of the couple laughing as she leans back against a cash register. Another, of them hitting each other with bags of chips, shows their playful side.
Their only regret was that they couldn’t get a Publix sub into one of the photos.
Alexandra and Dylan, who now works full time for the City of Lakeland’s parks and recreation department and part-time at a different Publix location to help pay for the wedding, have asked Goodlet to shoot their January nuptials at S Bar S Barn, a rustic, outdoor venue in north Lakeland. The ceremony will take place under a 100-year-old oak tree, with the sun setting behind them. The reception will be held inside a wooden barn nearby.
If it rains, the ceremony will be moved inside to the barn. Over the past eight years, the couple has been told, the facility has had to move only two weddings indoors.
If that happens, you can be sure Alexandra and Dylan — and Goodlet — will make the most of the experience, just as they did during their engagement shoot.
“When it started raining, we were bummed, honestly, at first that we couldn’t do things that day outside,” Alexandra says. “But in the end, I think everything happens for a reason. I think it was meant to rain so we could have that wonderful experience and have these wonderful pictures we could look back on.”