Wedding industry struggling as pandemic continues

Holly Viers • May 24, 2020 at 11:30 AM

Under normal circumstances, the spring wedding season would’ve been in full swing by now. But this year, things are quite different.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect the region in late March, the wedding industry has taken a huge hit as couples either postpone their ceremonies or cancel completely. And for three local wedding venue operators, the end of the pandemic can’t come soon enough.

“A lot of couples still need or want to get married this year,” said Kelly Story, owner of Storybrook Events (the wedding side of Storybrook Farm in Jonesborough), “and they are having to reevaluate and find out what they can do now.”

Financial woes

All facets of the wedding industry, from venues to caterers to photographers, are struggling financially as a result of the pandemic. Linda DeLong, owner of The Catering Company in Johnson City and The Heritage, a new venue in Jonesborough, said she’s already lost more than $70,000 in revenue from canceled weddings, and all her employees are laid off.

“I had just gotten it to where it was starting to get busy,” DeLong said of her new venue, “so now I don’t know if we’ll have to start over. That’s scary, too, because I have a huge payment that goes along with that, where I purchased the property, built the building.”

Story said Storybrook Farm had a full calendar of weddings in April, May and June, but many of them have either been canceled or pushed back to a later date. She added that some of her friends in the wedding industry are considering changing jobs in order to make a living.

“Several of my friends are actually looking at other career options and all kinds of things,” Story said, “because they don’t see the industry bouncing back in the large scale as it was before, at least not in the next year or two.”

Listening to leaders

DeLong and Story are adhering to guidance from health and government officials as weddings continue or resume at their venues. Allandale Mansion in Kingsport, however, is still waiting to reopen.

“We don’t make that decision, whether we’re open or not open; we go by the city’s guidelines. Right now, we’re closed to the public,” said Rod Gemayel, curator at Allandale. “We’ve had a number of people call, and they’ve rescheduled their weddings. A number of them have rescheduled for next year; some have just canceled and said, ‘We’ll get back to you later.’ We’ve had others who are just undecided. Their weddings may be later in the year when there’s a possibility it’s going to be OK, but they are having difficulty getting wedding dresses, arranging for vendors to commit to something, things like that.”

Making changes

All three venues have been or will be making changes to keep employees, couples and wedding guests safe. DeLong said The Heritage may begin to offer packages for smaller weddings, while The Catering Company is making changes to its food-serving process, which used to be self-serve buffet style.

“We could plate the food and serve it,” DeLong said, “or if they wanted it buffet style, we could stand behind the buffet and serve it so not everyone’s touching the utensils and things like that.”

Once Allandale Mansion reopens, Gemayel anticipates it will take a phased approach when it comes to the number of guests allowed at each wedding.

“If we did anything now, it would be 10 or under, and we’d go through phases,” Gemayel said. “It would be 10 and under, and I anticipate the next step would be 50 and under, and then after that, maybe 100 and under. It’s going to be a gradual phasing back in, from what I can tell.”

Unlike some other venues, Storybrook Farm is already used to holding small weddings, as its focus is on micro-weddings and elopements. Story said the elopement package is designed for the couple and up to eight guests, while the micro-wedding package allows for up to 24 people.

“We’ve been very, very lucky because of the nature of what we do and doing things on a smaller scale,” Story said. “We’ve actually had five new bookings in the last couple weeks of people who had planned big weddings somewhere, and they’ve just given up on the hope of getting to do that.”

Being flexible

Despite the fact that their weddings aren’t turning out as planned, most local brides have been flexible and understanding when it comes to altering their ceremonies, all three venue operators said. DeLong said The Heritage is helping some couples reschedule their spring events for the fall, though she is hopeful that her June events will be able to continue as scheduled.

“At first, I said, ‘If we lose April, it’s going to be bad.’ Then I was like, ‘If we lose May, it’s going to be really bad,’ ” DeLong said. “Now I’m like, ‘If we lose June, I’m going to cry.’ Of course, there’s been a lot of that already, but we are praying that we can at least work some in June.”

To accommodate its postponements, Storybrook Farm is opening up more dates through the week to hold events in the fall. But even though brides are being flexible, changing their plans has still been difficult for them, Story said.

“It’s definitely been kind of a roller-coaster, heartbreaking spring,” Story said. “I’ve had several brides call me bawling and in tears, scared of what they should do or not do.”

Gemayel said Allandale Mansion is waiving rescheduling fees for those who want to change their wedding date and is refunding deposits for those who decide to cancel their ceremonies during the pandemic.

“This too will pass,” Gemayel said, “and we’ll get back on to our regular schedule of holding events and celebrating and doing all the special things that we do out here.”

Planning ahead

If you’re thinking about scheduling a wedding for later in the year, all three venues are still booking events. Although Allandale Mansion is not open, interested couples can still call (423) 229-9422 to get more information.

To learn more about The Catering Company and The Heritage, call (423) 928-0025 or visit The Heritage website at heritageeventsvenue.com. The businesses can also be reached via email at thecateringcojc@gmail.com or theheritageevents@gmail.com.

For more information about Storybrook Farm, visit storybrookfarmweddings.com or email info@storybrookfarmweddings.com.

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