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WATCH NOW: The wedding boom has venues and vendors in high demand, forcing couples to get married on weekdays or have smaller celebrations
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WATCH NOW: The wedding boom has venues and vendors in high demand, forcing couples to get married on weekdays or have smaller celebrations

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Jaclyn Wilkins talks about weddings at the garden at Lewis Ginter

When Ernestine Davison started planning her wedding in February, she knew she wanted to get married at The Mill at Fine Creek in Powhatan County and she wanted to do it in June.

The problem was all of the weekends were booked at the venue.

She did what some brides might think is the unthinkable: get married on a weekday.

Davison and Jeffery Glushien tied the knot on June 9 — a Wednesday — at The Mill at Fine Creek just like she wanted.

Getting married during the week was not always Davison’s dream, but she said that it turned out to be perfect. The couple had 24 of their closest friends and family members attend the big day, and everyone eligible for the vaccine was fully vaccinated, which was a priority for the bride.

“It was amazing,” Davison said about her wedding. “Everyone heard my concerns about COVID.”

With venues and vendors in high demand or already booked in the vaccination-era, weekday weddings have become popular in recent months as an alternative solution. It comes as the wedding and event industry has been forced to adapt during the pandemic to accommodate the ever-changing restrictions and health conditions.

As restrictions loosen and more people are vaccinated, venues and vendors are faced with a new challenge dealing with more than a year’s worth of pent-up demand for weddings, meetings, conventions and other events. Some couples, for instance, have had to push their weddings later this year or into next year to get the date and venue they want.

Weddings are big business. The average wedding costs $24,700 nationally in 2019 but fell to $20,300 last year as ceremonies became smaller and less elaborate during the pandemic, according to The Wedding Report, a market research firm looking at the wedding industry. The average cost in the Richmond region last year was $25,189, down from $29,400 in 2019.

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The big change for the events industry in Virginia came May 28 when the state’s COVID-19 gathering and capacity limits were lifted.

Larger indoor events and bookings started to come in ferociously, according those working in the industry, from wedding planners and venue operators to florists and caterers.

“It’s business even more than usual,” said Marylee Marmer, owner and lead planner of Marylee Marmer Events, who served as Davison’s wedding planner.

“For the first time in my entire career, I’ve had people booking within a week, two weeks, prior to their wedding because they knew for sure that they were going to have it at that point,” said Marmer, who has been an event and wedding planner for more than 16 years and owned her business for over six years.

She and her team have been unusually busy in the past month or so, working with several weekday weddings and having multiple weddings in one weekend. This year, Marmer plans to handle nearly 100 weddings, which is close to the more than 100 weddings she planned in 2019. Last year, Marmer and her team planned about 40 weddings.

At The Flower Guy Bron florist shop on Brookland Park Boulevard in North Richmond, the month of June has been spent tackling rescheduled weddings from the past year as well as planning for weddings to come in the fall and later.

“Business started picking up literally the moment the restrictions were lifted,” said Bron Hansboro, the owner and head designer of The Flower Guy Bron. “There were an onslaught of inquiries, there were onslaughts of bookings, deposits being paid.”

Sandy Williams, who has owned the Sass & Frass Photography business for 11 years, said she usually takes off the month of July, but this year she can’t because so many of her clients have reached out to her to take pictures at their weddings, of their businesses and of their families.

“I think that something has changed with how people are perceiving life right now,” Williams said when asked about the increase in business.

Whether she is capturing a child’s baptism or a wedding, Williams said people seem to be more interested in capturing important moments of their lives in a more meaningful way than they did before the pandemic.

Event venues also have been scrambling trying to accommodate couples who want to get married and to come up with different ways in doing so. Operators are seeing more weekday weddings, smaller events, people booking vendors at the last minute and couples booking further in advance.

The demand has increased so much that some venues, such as those operated by the HOUSEpitality Family group of restaurants, now are handling more than one wedding in a day.

“We often host morning-afternoon wedding ceremonies and receptions, then our teams have a few hours to prepare before our evening event guests arrive,” said Laura Silva, the director of events for HOUSEpitality Family, whose restaurants include The Boathouse and Casa Del Barco.

Having multiple events on one day has become even more common as restrictions have been lifted, she said.

“Friday is the most popular [weekday] because people can just take Friday off and make it a long weekend,” said Alli Prato, who coordinates the weddings for the Boathouse at Rocketts Landing location. She said she has had to coordinate more weekday events this year than in the past.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden recently booked all of the available weekends until its wedding season ends in October, said Jaclyn Wilkins, the garden’s wedding and private events coordinator. Lewis Ginter has generated about $40,000 above its sales goal in events for the year, she said.

The botanical garden will not take any more wedding bookings for this year, and most dates in 2022 and even some dates in 2023 are already booked.

“It’s [the] very antithesis of what I’m used to doing,” Wilkins said about turning couples away. “I’m very much a sales girl.”

Wilkins said she and her supervisor decided to cap the number of weddings this year at 60. The garden had 38 weddings in 2019 and had 34 weddings last year during a compressed three-month time period because of COVID-19 restrictions.

During the pandemic, Lewis Ginter took full advantage of the interest in offering outdoor spaces for smaller events by welcoming wedding parties of up to 40 people to have their wedding there. As restrictions have lifted, larger weddings have been able to take place, but the smaller weddings have positively impacted its business, she said.

Caterers also have been in high demand recently, after a year-plus of having few events to handle.

For instance, at Homemades by Suzanne, a catering business in Ashland founded in 1982 that also operates a cafe in Ashland and one inside the Residences at the John Marshall in downtown Richmond, business has been getting back to what the catering company saw before the pandemic.

Owner Suzanne Wolstenholme said her business recently had catered three weddings in one weekend — one on Friday and two on Saturday. “And it’s like that for the rest of the year,” she said, noting that her business catered two to three weddings a weekend before the pandemic.

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The rush to have a wedding is impacting the couples getting married.

Kim Moody, the head planner and owner of Kim Moody Design wedding planning business and co-owner of the Estate at River Run event venue in Goochland County, said she has really seen her brides and grooms struggle with changing wedding plans because of the pandemic.

“I think it has been really interesting watching the clients almost go through like a grieving process of losing the wedding they originally thought they were going to have,” said Moody, who has some couples who started planning their wedding in 2018 who now will not get married until 2022.

The Knot, a popular wedding magazine, conducted a study to find out just how many weddings were impacted by COVID-19 in 2020.

Between 1.8 million to 2 million weddings take place on average in the U.S. each year, said Esther Lee, senior editor of The Knot. “In 2020, about half of those weddings happened, and half will happen this year and into 2022. As a result, we’ll see a 20-25% increase in weddings this year and next year.”

Casey and Kristen McGough, who live in Ashburn, got married on Oct. 20 — a Tuesday — with only four people in attendance. They held a small reception at Casey’s father’s house with a few more of their friends.

But they wanted to have a slightly bigger celebration, so they decided to try again in 2021, hoping more people could attend this time.

They got married for a second time on April 12 — a Monday — at Carolyn Baldwin Lake Pavilion near Farmville with about 30 of their friends and family in attendance.

Having the wedding for a second time also allowed for Kristen’s best friend to officiate the second ceremony as well as to have the wedding in a rustic yet intimate setting that the couple had always dreamed about.

“We were kind of really happy about the situational change that we had to deal with,” Kristen said.

For the Davison-Glushien wedding on a Wednesday in June, Davison said she was very cautious and worried about COVID-19 when she began planning in February for her special day.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen with COVID,” Davison said, noting that her 11-year-old son has asthma and is at high risk for getting COVID-19.

“I am very afraid of COVID and it seemed like a lot of people really weren’t taking it seriously,” Davison said.

Felicia and Joseph Sanchez also were worried about COVID-19, which is one of the factors that led them to start planning their wedding with just two weeks notice.

“We really [didn’t] want to have a big, huge wedding, especially with COVID,” Felicia said. “We just thought it would be nice to have something intimate and just kind of small, save some money.”

Wedding planners say they are seeing a lot more last-minute bookings with shorter planning windows.

The couple decided to get married on the porch of Bloemendaal House at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden on June 22 — a Tuesday — so that Joseph’s mother, who was visiting from Florida to meet the couple’s then 8-week-old daughter Sophia, could be a part of the special day.

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Business is improving for other parts of the event industry, from those holding nonprofit fundraisers to conventions.

Tunstall Willis, owner of Grandeur & Grove Events in Richmond who mainly focuses on planning events for nonprofits, said she has five gatherings she is coordinating for this fall. Five events in the fall is very typical for Willis, but the in-person events will be very different from the virtual gatherings she planned last year.

“I feel like this year it’ll be a little crazier than before,” said Willis, a mother of three. “Every weekend in September is booked. And we have two events in one weekend.”

Indoor conventions also are returning beginning in August, said Jack Berry, president and CEO of Richmond Region Tourism, the nonprofit organization that offers services to support the area’s hospitality industry.

“We were able to salvage a lot of the 2021 conventions that were on the books,” Berry said.

More people have booked hotel rooms for the upcoming conventions, Berry said. He said that the pickup on hotels has been better than average.

“What I would anticipate is that the attendance will be better than what it would have been,” Berry said, attributing the increase to the pent-up in demand for people wanting to get out and attending larger gatherings.

John Cario, general manager of the Hilton Richmond Downtown at 501 E. Broad St. in downtown Richmond, said convention attendance should be higher than expected, but that does not mean that everything is back to normal for the hotel.

“We’re picking up and we feel the fall will definitely be a little bit more back to normal,” Cario said.

“But, again I really don’t see any sense of normalcy. We’re adapting. We’ll probably keep some services closed — like we haven’t started room service back. We still have some limited housekeeping services. We haven’t opened up our executive lounge again yet,” he said. “So I don’t really think it’ll really ever get back to maybe 2019 and more normal because we’ll have to continue to watch costs, understand labor and do things differently.”

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