‘I do’ delayed: Virus disrupts weddings at important time for vendors

With vendors hired and a venue booked, Natalie Owens and Luke Longfield were looking forward to an ideal spring wedding in Kansas City. But as their May wedding date drew closer, cases of the novel coronavirus began to appear across the U.S. Owens and Longfield got the news on March 15 that Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas had barred gatherings over 50 people for the next eight weeks — one in an escalating series of restrictions on public events and group gatherings in the city, which has since issued a stay-at-home order.

The couple had to postpone their wedding until June.

“While it’s super frustrating and kind of not ideal, I think you’ve got to take whatever measures you need to prevent widespread death,” Longfield said. “At the end of the day, we don’t know what the fallout will be.”

Although Owens expressed frustration about the change of plans, she was excited that the couple’s vendors and venue could accommodate a later date.

“We called our DJ, and then our florist, the ladies that are doing my hair and makeup, the venue that we’re renting out and the people that are providing alcohol,” Owens said. “And they were all free in June, which was kind of amazing.”

Couples and vendors alike have been forced to be flexible by the spread of the pandemic and the resulting cancellation of events. For some vendors, potential revenue is being deferred or is disappearing altogether during one of the busiest times of the year for weddings, leaving businesses trying to make up their losses.

According to Kristen Maxwell Cooper, editor-in-chief of wedding planning website The Knot, couples hire more than a dozen vendors for their weddings, on average.

“The wedding industry is composed of hundreds of thousands of wedding small businesses,” Cooper said, “from wedding planners, bridal salons, florists and photographers to rental companies, lighting technicians, caterers, guest entertainment like DJs or bands, cake bakers, hair and makeup artists and so many more.“

Cooper said she has already witnessed the pandemic’s impact on the wedding industry.

“Across the board, we’ve seen both couples and wedding professionals alike feel the impact of COVID-19,” she said. “But they are also working very closely with each other to be flexible and find future dates that work to postpone these important celebrations.”

Catering Creations has served curbside to-go meals with its usual wedding business on hiatus. | Via Samuel Cedars/Facebook

Dodi Thomas and her family, which owns wedding venues near Springfield and Branson, along with a catering company, have had about 20 events postponed or canceled so far because of the coronavirus, amounting to more than $120,000 in losses, Thomas said.

“It’s very impactful because we’re coming into a very busy season,” she said. “June is one of the most popular months for weddings.”

Thomas feels that the virus could affect her businesses well past the wedding season.

“Everyone is feeling so unsettled right now,” she said. “So future events such as weddings that would now be booking for 2021 will be affected. People are hesitant to do anything until they feel like they know what the next step is as far as the containment.”

She said her family has been relying on their catering business, Catering Creations, for curbside takeout orders to help keep some workers employed. The company usually employs about 8-10 people, she said, but had to cut down to just a couple.

Eric Veerhoff, owner of High Impact Entertainment in Columbia, said weddings make up 95% of the business’ revenue. Recently, two weddings he was going to work had to be rescheduled because of the virus.

Verhoff said he’s encouraging his clients to be optimistic for the future.

“I’ve actually had some brides that are (getting married) later on, like August and October, that are freaking out what to do,” he said. “And I tell them not to freak out. We can always reschedule,”

In order to prevent more losses, Verhoff has been exploring alternative options for providing his services.

“We’re pushing to maybe doing a live stream if you still want to have the wedding or if you still want to have it on that date,” he said. “We can do that or, if you’d like to, reschedule.”

Katie Barnes, a wedding photographer based in Columbia, said she has money saved but is concerned about other wedding vendors.

“I think that other businesses who maybe don’t have as much of a safety net could have a really hard time,” she said, “because they might have to switch careers, switch jobs, you know, do something else to make money in the interim.”

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