Wedding bells falling silent as COVID-19 disrupts plans, industry

Couples' plans postponed as vendors brace for industry impacts amid COVID-19

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Bobbie Jo Dodson waited to reschedule her wedding, clinging to hope she and her fiancé could enjoy some semblance of the event they spent a year planning, until the choice to reschedule was no longer a choice at all.

First, the hotel where she reserved a block of rooms for guests closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Then her wedding venue, The Manor House in south Jefferson County, closed as well.

After both closures, she and her fiancé, Trent Stein, spent a day researching contingency plans. They considered inviting only their parents to watch them marry at the courthouse — a plan that later became impossible when the courthouse, too, closed. They contacted Airbnb to see if the company would rent them a home for their ceremony, some guests included, as governments began restricting the size of events.

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Finally, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced he was prohibiting all gatherings of 10 or more people. His order, the venue closure and the hotel closure, all came within 48-hours.

“That was, I think, finally the wakeup call to stop fighting this,” Dodson said.

'A screeching halt'

Dodson and Stein's original wedding date of March 28 came and went. The Centennial couple still does not have a new wedding date. Rescheduling their honeymoon to Italy, which they planned to take immediately after the wedding, also hangs in the air.

With Colorado under a stay-at-home order through April 11 — which Polis says is likely to be extended — Dodson is waiting to pick a new date until life is less uncertain.

“We fought it and that was so tortuous,” Dodson said, hoping other couples can learn from her experience. “It was better once we decided to postpone, because this is such an uncertain time and a really anxiety-provoking climate.”

Wedding vendors in the Denver metro area said they are encouraging couples like Dodson and Stein to stay positive and trying to provide clients with as much support as possible during the crisis.

“You almost have to be their therapist with it,” said Karalee McMillan, an Englewood-based wedding planner at Borrowed and Blue Colorado. “Just listening to everything and making sure that they feel heard, because at the end of the day, that's all you can really do.”

McMillan has seen her share of wedding tragedies — natural disasters clashing with wedding dates and fires wiping out venues. But she has never seen a crisis like COVID-19 unleashed on the industry.

“At this point, we don't even have (backup venues) as an option,” she said.

Dodson's wedding photographer, Castle Rock-based Dawn Sparks, was scheduled to photograph 15 weddings this year. Her next is slated for June, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced that couple into a “holding pattern,” along with all events in the near future.

“The photography industry has just come to a screeching halt, and I really don't know how that's going to pan out for us,” she said.

It's too early to call late summer and fall weddings, she said, but she suspects many couples will eventually opt to elope and pass up the expenses of a large event, especially if their jobs were affected by the pandemic.

Contracts between vendors and couples is “a big, hot topic in the wedding industry” amid the crisis, she said. Vendors who spoke to Colorado Community Media said they are making every effort to help couples reschedule and have not encountered a couple choosing to cancel altogether.

“I'm praying it's all over with before I have to cross that bridge,” Sparks said.

McMillan waived all date-transfer fees for couples and believes most vendors are taking similar measures.

Dodson praised The Manor House, located just west of C-470, for its professionalism and several of her vendors for their flexibility in rescheduling.

Her florist, Florals by Nora, sent her a care package. The Manor House offered to return her rental fee if they don't reschedule with that venue. All but one of her vendors offered to refund Dodson if she can't retain them for her rescheduled wedding date, although she hopes to.

All vendors cautioned couples forced into rescheduling to pick a date they are confident in and pick soon. Many industry professionals already have bookings for the rest of the year and into next year.

Supporting themselves

Vendors hope couples will choose to reschedule weddings affected by the pandemic rather than cancel and support the industry as revenue streams grow thin.

“There's going to be many of us that are filing for unemployment and taking advantage of the CARES Act that was just passed, the SBA loans, I'm researching all that,” Sparks said.

McMillan said it's hard to encourage couples to plan eventual venue tours or consider bookings when the future is so uncertain.

“It's definitely more difficult to kind of keep things going and support yourself,” she said.

A few potential couples reached out recently for information about her services, and their biggest questions revolve around the “what ifs” currently shrouding the industry, she said. Are deposits refundable or transferable? What happens if they need to reschedule? What if there is another wave of the virus?

“To say that there's been normal booking for the quarter, I would definitely say not, but there's definitely questions being answered and trying to bring as much calm as we can,” she said.

Crystal Scott is director of operations at Aspen Coast Studio, a team of photographers serving the Denver metro area, all of Colorado and now expanding to other states.

As their spring and early summer clients reschedule, that delays what photographers can earn to support themselves and their families, she said.

“When someone pushes their date off, then that pushes off also what we can make for each client,” she said. “It's going to be tricky to navigate, but overall I wouldn't say we're losing it, but it's just being put on hold.”

To support industry professionals, Scott urged couples to book sessions and weddings in advance. McMillan said those retainers help vendors earn income during off seasons. Sparks suggested giving photographers and vendors shout-outs and tags on social media.

Focusing on what matters

Regardless of what the future holds for weddings and events, vendors encourage couples to focus on what matters.

“You need to remember what's at the center of all of it, and it's the two people who fell in love,” McMillan said.

For Dodson, quarantining with her fiancé has reminded her they still have each other, and she's enjoying the extra time with him. When their wedding day does come, she said, they will be more appreciative. Their main wish is to have parents and close friends there to witness their vows and share in the memory.

“People have said, `I think the ceremony will be all the more special because of this.' I'm sure that's true,” she said. “It definitely makes you reflect on what was most important, what was the essence of what you wanted of that whole celebration.”

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