The threat of COVID-19 looms over wedding plans like a black cloud, forcing couples to cancel their ceremonies and wedding venues and vendors to shut their doors.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially recommended that mass gatherings such as weddings be canceled through May 15 under certain circumstances, including gatherings that bring together large numbers of people in close confines.
Most engaged couples are choosing to postpone their weddings until fall or later to protect their investment.
According to a 2019 study by The Knot magazine, the cost of a wedding in the United States averages $33,900. Colorado’s average is slightly lower, at $30,000.
A third to half of that cost usually is paid in advance to the venue, photographer, videographer, florist, caterer and bakery, not to mention the cost of the bride’s and wedding party’s attire.
Wedding services may also include musicians or DJs, wedding planners, town car or limousine rental, and engagement of hair and makeup artists. All must be booked far in advance of wedding season, which runs from spring to late fall.
Most wedding vendors’ contracts with engaged couples require a nonrefundable deposit, but in view of the circumstances, some vendors are offering flexible terms for their clients and helping them to reset their wedding dates.
Industry research firm IBISWorld reported that the U.S. wedding industry was a $74 billion market in 2019 that was composed of more than 400,000 businesses and employed more than 1.2 million people.
While the demand for wedding services will remain throughout this year, IBISWorld predicted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that industry revenue would drop by at least 1.7 percent in 2020 (overall revenue has fallen slightly for each of the past five years). That drop likely will be larger than the prediction, as some couples are moving their weddings to 2021, and will be felt most keenly now through the beginning of summer as wedding venues remain dark.
“At this point, we’re mostly rescheduling for later in the year or even to 2021,” said Michelle Benson, wedding events coordinator at The Pinery at the Hill. “I have had most of my weddings in May move.”
A few brides are choosing to say their vows on their original dates with a small ceremony or including close relatives via Zoom, and planning a vow renewal or reception later, she said. Some late May and June brides have selected backup dates but are waiting to see how the pandemic plays out before making a final decision.
“We are encouraging postponement over cancellation,” Benson said. “We’re trying to be creative in our understanding of the high emotion and what all this entails for a lot of people. … We are offering a Zoom ceremony through our DJ.”
The venue, which contracts with DJs, caterers and florists to provide full services for weddings, takes deposits when couples book. Final payments are being pushed back, and Benson expects some weddings to be scaled down when they do happen, reducing the cost per guest.
Despite the difficulties and uncertainty, “I’m still getting bookings … and giving virtual tours,” Benson said.
Overall, she expects to see a small drop in the number of weddings and said she thinks that will carry over into 2021.
“As somebody moves their date, that takes us out of days that I could have booked a different wedding,” she said. “So I think we will see the impacts of this for a while.”
Creekside Event Center, an 8-acre venue with several outdoor and indoor sites from which couples can choose, usually books about 70 weddings a year, Venue Director Sarah Evans said.
“That is going to change some,” she said. “We had about 65 weddings on the books ready to go, and we thought we would book another 10 closer to the end of the year.”
Creekside is popular for fall weddings and normally is booked every Thursday through Sunday in September, Evans said.
Depending on availability, couples can postpone their weddings within 365 days of their original date for no additional cost, she said.
“We want people to be able to have the celebration that they originally planned as close as possible,” she said. “So if they can keep their guest count and not have to shave down guests in order to accommodate the restrictions, that’s the best-case scenario for everybody.”
The event center employs three coordinators and has not laid off anyone.
“We have a small staff, and there’s always projects that can be worked on,” Evans said. “So we’re taking the mindset that this is a time to grow and improve our venue, even if we’re not as busy interfacing with our clients as we have been.”
Creekside employed a videographer to shoot a virtual tour and sends it to potential clients who inquire about the venue. A coordinator then meets virtually with the couple to talk about their vision for their wedding day and draw up a proposal.
“This has opened our eyes to a new way of doing business,” Evans said. “We’re trying to keep it as personable and as service-based as we are in person.”
Creekside also hosts job fairs, corporate trainings, lunches, dinners and networking events and has had to cancel or reschedule many of those events as well.
Like venues, wedding photographers are having to survive on deposits they have already collected for booked weddings but aren’t able to work until at least May 1.
“It’s a pretty tough deal right now,” said Sean Cayton of Cayton Photography, who is exclusively doing wedding photography. “We have lost all of our spring bookings and all, I suspect, of early summer. I had 15 to 18 weddings booked for the year in January. Of those I’ve lost six or seven. Some of those have decided to reschedule; others have promised to get back to me, but I honestly don’t expect to hear from some of them again.”
Cayton said his prices range from small events for $500-$800 to large weddings that run $3,000-$5,000.
He has reached out to couples to let them know he is willing to try and reschedule their wedding photography shoots.
If they choose not to, or he is unavailable, “the sad part of that is that they’re out that retainer,” he said.
Tamera Goldsmith, owner of Click Photography, has lost not only wedding photo shoots, which account for about half of her business, but also portraits of families and graduating seniors and boudoir glamour photography.
“All of those necessitate me being in close quarters with you,” she said. “None of us can legally work right now.”
During her downtime, Goldsmith said she has been working on “the nuts and bolts of my small business that sometimes don’t get done — my bookkeeping, updating my website, trying to keep my social media presence alive.”
She doesn’t think she will be able to just pick up where she left off when COVID-19 restrictions loosen.
“There’s probably a million other industries out there that will pick up more quickly, because photography is a luxury, not a necessity,” she said. “Everyone’s suffering, and those who weren’t making as much money during the downturn, when they want to get married, they’re not going to have the extra money to pay for luxuries like good photography. They’ll start having their Uncle Bob, who got a Canon Rebel for Christmas.”
To stay in business, she may have to downsize her studio space, bear down on marketing and paid ads and fall back on a part-time job, she said.
DRESSES FOR THE BIG DAY
According to Brides magazine’s 2018 weddings survey, brides spent an average of $2,260 on their wedding dresses.
Wedding dresses are made to order, and many brides prefer the personal service offered by bridal salons like Impressed by the Dress.
Owner Angela Diamanti is connecting virtually with brides and trying to extend the personal, caring service her shop is known for.
“We’re making sure we’re reaching out and letting them know we’re going to be there, and we’ll be there after this is all over,” she said. “It’s not easy, and our hearts go out to all the brides who are having to replan and reschedule everything. I don’t want to be sales-y right now; that’s not who we are.”
The shop sold just over 200 bridal gowns in 2019, plus bridesmaid dresses and tuxedos, and 40 gowns in the first quarter of this year.
“From mid-March to now is a zero kind of situation for us,” Diamanti said, adding that “a couple of people have ordered bridesmaids [dresses] over the phone.”
Potential customers are asking when they will be able to visit the shop, and several have booked appointments for a possible reopening around the end of this month.
“We’ll see if those have to be postponed,” Diamanti said.
Meanwhile, Diamanti is “doing these little personal conversations with them and trying to plan ahead and just reassure them. We’re going to try to make it special for them — an experience worth waiting for.”