The Business Of Love: The Wedding Industry's Losses Amidst The COVID-19 Pandemic
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Jatasia Williams stood between rows of socially distanced chairs in the yard of the Austin T. Finch House, preparing to walk down the aisle to wed her soon-to-be husband, Andrew Alexander.
It was a cold Saturday in December and she was excited to begin her life as Mrs. Andrew Alexander. But as she walked down the aisle, she couldn’t help but notice how different this wedding was from the big, posh wedding she'd always dreamed of.
The couple originally planned to wed on June 6, 2020, in front of 200 guests. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, they changed their date to May 2021. But the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic made them have a smaller ceremony on Dec.19, while still keeping plans for a bigger celebration in May.
With the new date came a completely different wedding. Seating and catering for 200 quickly became sparse seating for 20, with no food.
“I literally walked down, and then it was like we said, our I do's. And it was like, take one picture. It's socially distant and then, ‘Bye, love you guys,’” said the new Williams-Alexander. “I was happy, of course, that we got married, but, you know, you kind of miss out on those things.”
The pandemic has forced a lot of people to delay their weddings. A study from the Wedding Report shows that almost 42% of weddings in 2020 moved to a date in 2021. The average cost of weddings was down 21%, with most weddings costing around $20,000.
The founder of the National Society for Black Wedding and Event Professionals, Tara Melvin, said for her members, the average cost per wedding guest is $600 to $650, with most weddings averaging 150 people. But the pandemic has drastically reduced the size of weddings to 10 to 25 people.
She said a lot of couples rescheduled their weddings. Many had smaller ceremonies and just did it themselves. Melvin said many vendors lost 80-90% of their income in 2020.
“We rely on these occasions to happen and with the restraints that are very different, depending on what state — sometimes what county that you go in — there's either zero to a small percentage of events that are occurring,” Melvin said.
Melvin said many of the members in the society applied for Paycheck Protection Program loans during the first round, but almost all were denied or didn’t get a response. Data from the Paycheck Protection Program show that of the 5.2 million dispersed during the first round of PPP loans, many Black- and Latino-owned businesses were rejected or never heard a response.
To make ends meet, Melvin said wedding professionals are creating new ways to generate income.
“It's all about pivoting and trying to earn the money that you can with the skills that you have,” Melvin said.
One Charlotte Florist Adapts To The Pandemic
Giovy Buyers expected 2020 to be a busy year. She was going to be one of the florists for the Republican National Convention and had more than 20 weddings booked. All that on top of regular business at her store, Southern Blossom in Charlotte’s Dilworth neighborhood.
But the coronavirus pandemic brought all those plans to a halt.
Buyers had to close and furloughed her five employees. For a while she couldn't even get flower shipments from abroad because borders closed.
“I was so nervous. I didn't know what happened,” Buyers said. “I was fearing for my employees. Fearing to what was going to happen. What was going to happen, you know, to the business. But at the same time, to the world.”
And it didn’t get easier as brides started calling to reschedule their weddings.
“It's heartbreaking because some of my brides are almost in tears on the phone,” Buyers said. “They say, ‘My grandmother cannot be here with me on this special day. I always dreamed to have this wedding. I planned it for so long. And now she cannot be here with us.’”
Buyers said brides typically schedule consultations with her a year in advance and put down a 10% non-refundable deposit. Most of her brides spend between $2,000 and $5,000 on flowers, she said.
She expected to make around $34,000 from 22 weddings she had scheduled in 2020. Only six of those weddings actually happened. After changes in sizes and venues, she only made $6,000 from weddings in 2020.
“It's frustrating,” Buyers said. “It's just so frustrating because one thing I kind of love to do — which is kind of hard with this business — is just have everything organized and I know what to expect.”
Buyers said corporate events and weddings make up 70% of Southern Blossom’s revenue. So, as brides called to reschedule their wedding days and corporations canceled all in person gatherings, Buyers had to find creative ways to stay in business.
“I was just looking for a solution. I'm not the type of person to sit there and wait for people to tell me what the solution is,” Buyers said. “I always look for the solution. What are the options out there?”
She landed a $10,000 grant from Charlotte’s Access to Capital small business program. She said this money helped her pay for the shop’s rent and rehire her employees.
Mother’s Day and Christmas were especially successful for Southern Blossom. Buyers set up a pop-up shop in her garage and sold flower arrangements to her neighbors. She said the holidays were the busiest they’ve ever been in the 12-year history of her store. That money helped balance the loss of revenue from weddings. She’s expecting Valentine’s Day this year to follow suit.
As for the rest of 2021, Buyers said she’s gotten more requests for weddings than ever before. And she said wedding industry vendors are coming together to promote their services.
“We're becoming more creative and trying to see how we can not just see ourselves as competition, but maybe collaborating and helping each other out,” she said.
Buyers said finding new ways to survive the coronavirus pandemic gives her confidence for Southern Blossom’s future.
Limited Relief For Wedding Planners In 2021
For many wedding planners, 2021 isn’t bringing as much relief as you might expect. So far, 2021 is a lot busier for Elana Walker — but it’s not more profitable.
Walker, who runs Elana Walker Events in Raleigh, was paid in advance last year for weddings that were then delayed because of the pandemic.
“I would have ideally wanted 15 weddings this year. I ended up having close to 40 weddings this year just because I had to move some weddings for free,” Walker said. “Bookings have slowed down, but clients are moving their weddings to new dates that we can't book again. So, there was a lot of money lost.”
And there’s a lot of travel time. For example, she has upcoming weddings in California, Tennessee and Charlotte.
On average, Walker says her clients spend between $75,000 to $100,000 on their weddings. In 2020, because of cancellations, she went from about 30 weddings to only four.
Typically, Walker is part of a bride’s support system. In 2020, it was harder to provide that support.
“It's like their dream has died,” Walker said. “They've had this dream ever since they were a little girl of what their wedding is going to be like. And to envision that different with fewer guests, with guests with masks on, we can't, you know, have a massive swag-and-surf like we want to. It's just something ... it's completely different.”
That's is how Williams-Alexander felt about her COVID-19 wedding. But the date she and her husband chose to get married on, Dec. 19, still had special significance. It was the fifth anniversary of the day they matched on Tinder.
And, they are still holding out hope for their traditional ceremony in May.