Preparations for a wedding, at any time, is a stressful and time-consuming task. There is the finding of the perfect dress, the ideal venue. There is the guest list, the ‘save the date’ card, the bridal shower, and the invitations. There is the assembling of the all-important ‘dream team:’ florist, photographer, baker, DJ or band, videographer, limo service, hair & makeup artists, etc. But what if something goes wrong somewhere between the ‘I will’ and the ‘I do?’ Sure, there are precedents of what others have done when a disaster, such as an earthquake or a hurricane, strikes. But nothing has prepared the industry (and the world) for a pandemic. And as we found out, the number of people and the amount of money that is affected by just one wedding being canceled or postponed is staggering.
Hannah Masaracchia, baker and owner of Nosh in Trappe, first alerted us through a posting on Facebook. I am worried that we have forgotten entirely about a whole group of people that are in grave need of our support. The self-employed. Your hometown entrepreneurs. We may not have storefronts, but our small businesses are still just that — businesses. My concentration for the past couple of years has been in the wedding industry, and, as a whole, we have already taken a devastating blow from COVID-19. One that many of us will not recover from. We’re just coming out of our off-season and depend on the income wedding season brings to carry us through the next off-season.
“More than half of us,” she told us, “don’t qualify for unemployment.”
Masaracchia struggles with the question of what to do with the non-refundable deposits that were paid to her a year or more in advance. She sympathizes with the bride, who’s been looking forward to the wedding for over a year and a half. “It’s completely out of her control, and it’s not just like they’re canceling because they wanted a different date.” She’s refunded some but worries that if she refunds more, it could bankrupt her businesses.
The same worry and disappointment were expressed by Ashley Sherwood, who owns Sherwood Florist in Tilghman Islands. All of her spring weddings have been canceled or postponed, and no, she has not refunded the ‘very small deposit’ she collects. It’s not just affecting florists, she told us, it’s also affecting the growers and wholesalers, who’ve had to destroy the flowers that won’t be used. “It’s really, really sad,” Sherwood says, “just piles and piles of flowers, gone.”
Having no income is forcing small businesses to come up with other ways to stay afloat. Masaracchia is planning on a cake-a-month idea, “We’re all trying to scramble to come up with a new way to keep our head above water,” she said.
Sherwood has started a flower club with the flowers she was able to get before her last wholesaler closed. “Right now, I’m just kind of holding my breath until, hopefully, a wedding comes, she said. “My next wedding is supposed to be May 30th, and they’re not postponed yet, so we’re hoping that it can happen.”
Cancel, postpone, or forge ahead is the question being asked of all weddings planned for the next few months. For Kimberly Hargrove from St. Michaels, who was scheduled to be married at the Great Oak Manor in Chestertown on April 25, the question was decided for her when her venue canceled. “We were ready. We had 150 guests. We have just moved back from Florida, now we’ve got to wait all the way until November.”
With the change comes different sets of problems. “A major disappointment for brides having to reschedule is that they may not be able to use all their original vendors because of availability,” said Masaracchia. “We book a year or so out and can only do so many weddings per day–many of us are limited to just one wedding per day–and we are all nearly booked for this Fall when many brides are now looking to reschedule.”
For Hargrove and her husband-to-be, Brandon Hause, this means their photographer won’t be available. “You work so hard to find people that you like and get everybody on board, and then you start from scratch all over again.”
It also means that the wedding dress, Hargrove carefully chose for Spring, will be used in late fall instead and will need some adjustments for the weather. It’s more than just the dress, explains Masaracchia. The spring flowers they picked out won’t work, their decorations, color schemes, and décor will probably need to change as well to reflect the season.
What about eloping now and having a party later, we asked? Says Hargrove, “Your wedding day is all about being surrounded by your friends and family, and if they’re not going to be there, I’d rather reschedule and have a day when they can be there.” To other brides who may be experiencing the same dilemma, she advises, “I know that it’s such a letdown and it’s such a disappointment, but when it happens, it will make the day that much more special.”
Bride-to-be Haley Baumgartner, from Cambridge, agrees, to a point. She’s hoping not to change her May 17 wedding at Delmar, MD’s Kylan Barn. “Me and my fiancé (Andrew Cooper), we’re just going to act like it’s still happening until they tell us we can’t do it. So, we’re just pushing on and hoping that things are going to happen.” She admits to being disappointed and upset when it was becoming obvious there may be a problem. “Hopefully, I’m only going to have one wedding in my life. I want it to be what I’ve always dreamed of since I was little.”
But unlike Hargrove, Baumgartner is open to other possibilities. “Andrew and I are both very confident, and we’re at peace with whatever happens. Whether that means we have to get married at the courthouse in May and then have a wedding celebration in the summer or the fall, or if our (current) wedding date ends up being able to be our wedding date… We’re just kind of waiting and just trying to be patient.” Her message to other brides is: “Try not to stress out and panic over all of this because I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and no matter what happens at the end of the day you and your significant other still love each other, and you’re going to get married at some point or another. So just keep pushing forward and holding onto that hope.”
An Anne Arundel couple, who preferred not to be identified, plan on continuing with their early May wedding but have adapted to the new COVID-19 reality of using technology in innovative ways. Since they no longer can use their chosen venue in Chestertown (and won’t be receiving their non-refundable deposit back), they’ve booked a B&B with outdoor space. On their selected day, the bride and groom, their parents, and an officiant will witness the marriage (following social distancing guidelines and the prohibition on gatherings of more than ten people). All the rest of the guests received their invitation to live-stream the ceremony from the safety of their homes. The couple plans on having a celebratory party in November.
Of course, things are subject to change as this crisis forces all of us to remain fluid in our expectations and plans. Sooner or later, however, these and other couples like them will get married and continue with their life. That might not be the case for their florists, photographers, bakers, DJs or bands, videographers, limo service, or hair & makeup artists, who depend on the steady stream of weddings to keep their businesses open.
Just as we are supporting restaurants by ordering take-out or delivery, there are ways we can also help the local small businesses. Purchase gift certificates, consider ordering cupcakes from a baker instead of a supermarket, book a family session with a photographer, buy Easter and Mother’s Day flowers from a florist.
Masaracchia sums it up this way: “It’s all about thinking outside of the box. Look at our services not as an extravagance and not just for weddings. We can do birthday parties and other events as well. Let’s continue to spread the love, and, hopefully, we’ll all survive this together.”
Photos courtesy of: Artistic Photography by Tami
Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.