A wedding is often the biggest, most important event most families ever have to plan, and the coronavirus has turned those plans upside down for couples hoping to say “I do” this spring.
Cancellations and postponements can be an anxiety-provoking challenge for future brides and grooms, but event changes are also having a significant impact on a range of vendors involved in the wedding industry including planners, florists, caterers, musicians, rental companies and hotels.
Postponement of wedding season disastrous for local industry
“This affects close to twenty events for us,” said Samantha Diedrick Harris of Greenville event planning firm Secretariat. “This is a game-changer for our industry. Many of us are small or home-based. I am terrified for my vendors, not to mention sales staff at locations, caterers, et cetera.” And local photographer Kelli Wilke says the pandemic “has affected every aspect of my business.”
Say good-bye to spring weddings and hello to summer and fall – or later.
And that’s not going to be easy for couples or their vendors. According to the wedding planning site The Knot, 450,000 weddings are scheduled each year in the U.S. between March and May.
Katie Desmond, 26, who grew up in Wilmington, is one of Harris’ wedding clients impacted by the coronavirus. Desmond, who works for an engineering firm in Indianapolis, has decided to postpone her May wedding to fiancé Pedro Martins, a Ph.D. engineering candidate at Purdue until August.
Katie’s mother Jean Desmond, who still lives in Wilmington, says the young couple was crushed when they had to adjust plans that have been in place for months “I started helping Katie and Pedro with wedding plans about a year ago. We had about 160 to 200 guests joining us at St. Ann’s Church in Wilmington and a beautiful reception planned at the Greenville Country Club,” Desmond told us.
She said Harris opened the discussion about postponing. “We started talking about it two weeks ago when it became clear there would be significant travel restrictions. We’ve had great luck with rebooking, and all of the vendors and church have been very helpful with rescheduling,” she said.
About half of Katie’s guests are from out of town, and many are from outside the U.S., which meant dozens had to make other flight and hotel plans. Not all airlines outside of the U.S. have been as accomodating as American carriers, many of whom are waving change fees during the coronavirus outbreak.
Sarah Armbruster, a design consultant at Tile Market of Delaware, and her fiancé Michael Cassidy, a commercial real estate broker, had planned to marry on May 1.
“We started to consider postponing last Monday, the 16th,” Armbruster said, the day after the CDC advised against gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks.
“A lot of our friends are getting married this year as well – one was supposed to be this weekend, and another was supposed to get married two weekends after us. They both had postponed their dates, so I finally did. I was dreading it and reached out to my venue to see what the next steps were.”
With uncertainty about the epidemic and only a slim choice of available dates to work with in the near term, Sarah and Michael have pushed their date our a year – to May 14, 2021, at the Manor at Bohemia Overlook in North East, Md.
Changing the wedding date didn’t turn out to be the nightmare she feared. Vendors have received countless phone calls like the ones from Armbruster.
“I have to say, everyone has been amazing. The venue allowed us not only to postpone the date but to postpone to the following year. All of my other vendors – photographer, videographer, caterer, hotels, DJ, hair and makeup – have been so helpful and really comforting,” said Armbruster.
Brides scramble to find alternative wedding dates
With hundreds of brides forced to postpone, there’s been intense competition to find fast-dwindling alternative dates. Weddings scheduled for the Hotel Du Pont have been postponed until the summer or fall, according to an event planner there. Most of the weddings that have been rescheduled to the fall had to move to Friday evenings, though, because the hotel had weddings already booked for every Saturday that season.
Canceling or postponing a wedding has a cascade effect on all the vendors involved. Hotels, florists, caterers, musicians, photographers, hairstylists, rental companies are all suffering a financial hit. According to the website the Wedding Report, the average wedding in Delaware in 2019 cost $27,600.
But most seem to be overlooking the cancelation clauses in their contracts because of the unprecedented health crisis. Small businesses that depend on referrals know that brides have few options right now.
Patty McCoy, who owns Petals Flowers & Fine Gifts says at least 20 couples have called to cancel their floral orders. She has offered a full refund to everyone. “You can’t not refund these people. It’s the right thing to do. Some are paid in full. Fortunately, my wholesaler has been really good about this, too,” said McCoy.
Flowers by Yukie on Union Street in Wilmington usually does between 10 and 15 weddings in April and May, said Judy Suarez, who works in the shop. “Pretty much all of those weddings have been postponed, but this is still a loss for us this spring,” said Suarez. “The virus is definitely impacting us, that’s for sure.”
One wedding photographer tries to “make it work”
About a third of professional photographer Kelli Wilke’s business is weddings. But she says every aspect of her business has been affected by the novel coronavirus, and that has her worried. Companies are rescheduling their head shot shoots, real estate photography has dried up, and of course, spring weddings have been canceled.
Wilke works for herself – not for a large studio house, where clients are assigned a photographer. She says couples have chosen her for my specific style of photography and value photography sometimes over things like flowers and decor.
“The cancelations have been painful. I only take on about 15 weddings a year so that I am able to service each couple to the fullest and provide them a great experience. But I have not been charging and penalty fees for rescheduling – I feel for these couples and what they must be going through. I’m doing my best to try to make it work all around,” says Wilke.
Wilke always has a backup plan, god forbid she were to get injured or sick before an event. So she does retain the right to find a suitable replacement. So for some spring 2020 brides who choose a new date that Wilke isn’t available, she can send another qualified photographer. “But I always feel bad when I have to find a replacement for myself,” she says.
Wilke says many of her brides rescheduling to the fall are choosing Fridays and Sundays. “It’s literally a scramble to see who can get the new dates booked. The venues are booked up already. So often the couples don’t have a lot of options,” says Wilke.
Some of Wilke’s spring 2020 clients are planning to move their weddings forward an entire year. And Wilke says that poses an entirely new set of problems. “That means I risk giving away prime dates for new couples with couples from this year which is a problem for my potential earnings next year. I am eventually going to have to put some sort of exclusion on dates that start getting into the high season in 2021,” says Wilke.
She’s also considered allowing her spring 2020 couples to rebook next year – but only on non-prime dates or any Friday or Sunday dates at no added fee.
Civil ceremonies put on hold
Even if a couple wants to have a simple civil marriage ceremony, that choice has been affected by the novel coronavirus: As of Thursday, March 19, the New Castle County Marriage Bureau is closed to the public until the state of emergency is lifted. Marriage licenses will not be issued, and civil marriage ceremonies won’t be performed.
In Kent County, the office of the Clerk of the Peace is closed to the public for the period of the state of emergency. However, couples who have applied online for marriage licenses can come in person (both must appear) to pick up their licenses. Those marriage ceremonies that have been scheduled will be performed, but no new civil services are being scheduled.
One couple to livestream their ceremony on Zoom
The day after Governor Carney issued the fifth modification to the State of Emergency on March 23, the Diocese of Wilmington canceled all Masses until May 18, and other religious groups are also abiding by the governor’s orders. Funeral and wedding services are now limited to 10 or fewer people.
One local bride told Town Square Delaware that she and her fiance decided to move up their wedding from May to March 28 before the governor’s directive was given. “We had to clear this with our priest and get our marriage license before the Clerk of the Peace closed to the public [on March 19],” she explained.
In accordance with the governor’s order, the couple is hosting a small ceremony today (March 28th). “We are only able to have 10 people – including ourselves and our priest – at the church so many of our immediate family can’t make it. But we are going to set up a live feed, hopefully.”
In this new era of the coronavirus, flexibility is key. “Everyone is in the same boat so all you can really do is work together and support one another in such a crazy time,” said Armbruster.