COVID-19 puts wedding season on indefinite hiatus

 

When planning a wedding, couples typically try to prepare themselves for the worst that can happen on their big day, but what if the worst-case scenario is a global pandemic?

It's the start of wedding season and the current measures in place across the country and the world at large aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 has put a lot of couples and businesses in a precarious position.

For many, it's forced the cancellation of plans that have been months, or possibly years, in the making and the loss of significant amounts of money.

Jeff Authier and Lauren Gehl were supposed to celebrate their nuptials in two parts: a destination wedding in the Dominican Republic on April 22 with 25 guests and a legal ceremony back home in Chatham on May 3 with 40 guests.

Both of those events have been cancelled and the couple and their guests received refunds for the destination wedding. The celebration back home in Canada, however, they're still waiting to hear whether or not they will obtain any kind of refund.

The decision to change their plans came in different stages and each choice was a hard one.

"Everything happened very quickly, and with having the two weddings, it was difficult," Authier told InTheHammer. "As soon as you came to terms with a cancellation or change of plans, within days, there was another change."

For Terri Johnson and Sante Muraca, whose wedding is scheduled for June 5 at the Ancaster Mill, they're still in wedding limbo.

"They haven't cancelled our date yet," Johnson said. "But we're fully expecting them to. We're just waiting for them to get through the May cancellations."

Johnson said at a meeting they had with the Ancaster Mill this past weekend, the venue had already rebooked weddings from March, April and most of May and that they have filled up the calendar to the end of the year.

"There was one Friday left in 2020 and I presume it will be booked by the time they get to us," she said. There were weekday and Sunday bookings still available but Johnson feels those days will limit the number of guests they'll have and how much they can enjoy the festivities.

"[Sante and I] love to dance so we wanted to have this big party where we get to dance with all of our friends and family," she said. "If our wedding is on a weeknight, people aren't going to want to stay late."

What does the future hold?

Both couples are unsure what the pandemic means for their future weddings.

The uncertainty and fear everyone is feeling right now as we all put our lives on hold to fight the spread of COVID-19 is amplified among those who have been planning the celebration of what is for many, the most important milestone in a person's life.

"We're just really stressed about it," said Johnson.

She said they'd grown so attached to the idea that June 5 was going to be their wedding anniversary, that they made a back-up plan to get married just the two of them on that day.

Even plan B, however, has been thwarted because they can't obtain a marriage licence. Municipal services across the province are shuttered.

"We've called municipalities everywhere and no one can help us," she said. "It's out of our control. All we can do is take it one day at a time."

To add further insult to injury, Johnson and Muraca had planned a lavish honeymoon cruise around Italy — the first time either of them would have travelled to Europe. For Johnson, a business owner, it was no small feat to organize the time off and plan the trip.

"I haven't had a lot of vacations," she said. "It was a big deal to get the time off."

Authier said he and his fiancee plan to wait out the pandemic before making any more plans.

"We are waiting for the COVID-19 pandemic to end," he said. "We have already had to change our plans too many times in the month of March, and it makes an emotional impact each time you have to cancel."

He did say, though, that he and Gehl will probably don their wedding hardware on the day that would've been their wedding at home.

"We are talking about the idea of just wearing our rings together on what would have been our wedding day here in Canada, as we have been together for five years, and we say 'a piece of paper doesn’t make the marriage.'"

Bad for business

On the other side of things are the businesses that rely on the wedding season. Many are small businesses like photographers, DJs, and florists who will undoubtedly struggle to stay afloat in the months to come.

"Financially recovering from this is going to be extremely challenging," said Marcella Lico, the manager of Best for Bride bridal salon in Hamilton. "There will be people in this industry who will not survive."

Best for Bride, which has four locations across the province, has been closed since March 23.

"We've all been laid off," Lico said. "But I'm still working to support my clients. We're in direct communication (via email) with our clients."

She's even had to arrange for curbside pickups of wedding gowns, even if the event itself has been cancelled.

"Brides want what they've paid for," she said. "And I get it. This is an upsetting time."

For wedding venues, this is unchartered territory and, according to Andi Pojani, the Director of Sales for Carmen's Banquet Centre in Hamilton, communication with clients is key to weathering this storm.

"We are in constant communication with our clients," he said. "Emotions are running high at this time and the longer you wait to reach out the more the stress mounts. We are working hard to support our brides and grooms."

Pojani said that so far 65 to 70 weddings at Carmen's have been affected by the pandemic. Many of them have been postponed but others have been cancelled and in those cases, refunds on deposits remain up in the air.

"Full cancellations are tricky because we know they need the money right now," Pojani said. "Providing a full refund at a time like this is hard [for businesses working with minimal cash flow]. So we're asking couples to strongly consider postponement or altering their plans. We're open to different ideas."

He said Carmen's has even reached out to other event venues in Hamilton to see if they could figure out ways to work together to provide other options for brides and grooms.

"We're all trying to get through this together," he said.

Smaller weddings or weekday weddings are also an option and Pojani says there will be no financial penalties for smaller headcounts.

If these aren't preferable options for couples, Pojani said their deposit can also be used towards a different kind of event if they want, like a baby shower or other celebration.

"We're trying to find creative ways of working through this with [our clients]," he said. "This is unchartered waters for all of us so we're working on a case-by-case basis."

One thing is for sure, there will be further losses for venues who will have to rebook current clients for later this year, not to mention that future brides and grooms will likely have to contend with this current backlog.

"There will be a lot less new business coming in when this is over," Pojani said. "We were the first ones to close and we'll definitely be the last ones to reopen."

While brides and grooms and the businesses they patronize for their special day struggle to plan ahead in a future that is far from certain, one cannot help but reflect on the fact that these kinds of events will take on new significance when the threat of COVID-19 passes.

"Getting through this will be another reason to celebrate," Pojani said.

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