Here comes the bride — well, maybe not for another six to 12 months.
The events industry is in a free fall in the wake of temporary mandated closures and crowd limits prompted by the spread of COVID-19. As a result, brides and grooms across the region — and the professionals hired to help make their wedding dreams happen — aren’t sure when they’ll be able to march down the aisle.
It’s been almost a week since a shelter-in-place mandate went into effect for Allegheny County. Elsewhere, videos have gone viral of couples getting creative with virtual weddings or saying “I do” in the street as friends and family look on from nearby windows.
For couples who decide to wait, the real question is: How long will this last?
Sarah Bucar, 31, who grew up in Trafford but now lives in Chicago, had mixed feelings about postponing her wedding this spring to Hampton native John Ward, 33 — for the third time.
They delayed their original plans when she found out she was pregnant after “we were told we could never have children,” Ms. Bucar said. Next, they tried to get married at a courthouse during the holidays but were turned away because there were too many criminal cases. The couple hoped to finally tie the knot on May 9.
“I was extremely sad, but now I can laugh about it,” said Ms. Bucar.
She is working with event planner Shari Zatman to reschedule the ceremony for July at the Heinz History Center in the Strip District. “We don’t want a compromised experience. We’ve been engaged for more than two years, and we want the dream wedding that we’ve been planning.”
COVID-19 is putting couples who are earlier in the planning process in a crunch, too. Danielle Katz, 36, and James Snyder, 29, of Squirrel Hill, got engaged in November in Hawaii and talked about getting married there, too.
“We thought to ourselves, ‘What’s the point?’ We don’t know when to plan,” Ms. Katz said.
“Wedding planning is a very resource-intensive undertaking,” Mr. Snyder added. “Without more certainty, it’s difficult to even take the first step.”
They’re considering pushing their wedding back a year or two because “we don’t want to step on the toes of the brides already trying to push back [their dates],” Ms. Katz said.
With the long-term economic impact of COVID-19 also uncertain, they’re concerned about the strain on their wallets, as well.
“We don’t want to compromise in ways we don’t have to,” Ms. Katz said. “We really still want to have a destination wedding, which is why we are willing to postpone for a few years, for us having everyone all together.”
Event planners are working hard to help couples not lose sight of their dreams, just defer them.
“Is it two months? Can we start again in the summer? Everyone is scrambling to get a venue,” said Ms. Zatman, who owns Perfectly Planned by Shari and is a partner in Eventful Events with Theresa Kaufman. “I’m encouraging my clients to pick other days of the week outside of Saturdays because they just aren’t available right now into the fall.”
Ms. Zatman has been in the events industry for more than 15 years and works mostly with weddings and bar mitzvahs. She recommends rescheduling instead of canceling wedding plans because, in the long run, it will save money, stress and keep the event alive. It also gives couples something to look forward to once rules around social distancing relax.
“My clients are nervous, which is to be expected. One of my brides is hesitant to pull the trigger on her new summer date. What if she has to reschedule it again? It’s just a time of great chaos and uncertainty,” Ms. Zatman said.
Other event professionals agree that moving plans rather than scrapping them and starting from scratch is the way to go.
“We are practiced in the art of dealing with an ever-changing landscape and keeping the project and the success of the project at the forefront,” said Thommy Conroy, who describes himself as an event “architect.” He’s also a florist who owns 4121 Main in Bloomfield.
Also feeling the pinch of COVID-19 restrictions are florists, bridal salons and bakeries.
“People are holding off on beginning to shop or placing orders,” said Erin Szymanski, owner of Luna, a by-appointment bridal shop in Sewickley. “Maybe in light of all of this, they may be changing their plans to do something smaller.”
Her store is temporarily closed as a result of Gov. Tom Wolf’s mandate, so she’s postponed bridal appointments and trunk shows for the coming weeks. That means brides who’ve already purchased their gowns aren’t able to come in for their final fittings or to pay for them. Ms. Szymanski is offering to ship gowns and is encouraging people to make a payment on their balance in the meantime, if they can.
It remains to be seen how the novel coronavirus will impact designers.
“So far, all are saying they’re on their production schedules,” Ms. Szymanski said. “Some are trying to ramp things up to get things out sooner in case in the next month something bigger could happen.”
Florists Nathan McCarthy and Tom Cabral, owners of Hens & Chicks in the Strip District, were in Morocco celebrating their four-year wedding anniversary when travel restrictions and business closures started back home. They’ve been working with couples, corporate businesses and nonprofits to pencil in new dates.
“As a florist, luckily, we don’t order our product until a couple weeks out,” Mr. McCarthy said. “So far, we’ve only had one thing that fell through that we are trying to reuse that product for. We are observing the rules being put forth and working in shifts and only having one person in the office at a time, but our online store is open.”
He said his business learned from the last recession to operate lean; he doesn’t think that some who work in the event industry will be able to weather the economic setbacks this time.
“A lot of social events really rely on their events as a major form of fundraising. They will have to do them or be really innovative,” he said.
Planners and others hope longtime relationships and word-of-mouth referrals will help them keep them in business.
“My fear is personally that my phone will stop ringing because they won’t be able to afford a planner,” said Ms. Zatman, who started working with Ms. Kaufman in 2008 before the recession. “We employ people, we take care of our families, we are a part of this overall economy, so it’s important for us to stay in business.”