Any other year, now would be “go-time” for Rhode Island’s wedding business. Venues, caterers, planners, photographers, bakers, transportation companies, florists, bands and DJs, makeup artists and salons – few of these professionals would see a free weekend spring through the end of the fall. But, as we all know, these are anything but normal times.
In mid-April, Allison Barbera, who owns her eponymous onsite makeup and hair service, co-founded the Rhode Island Coalition of Wedding Vendors Facebook group, a digital space where vendors can voice concerns and seek solutions to the challenges the pandemic has presented. “I expected maybe 50 people to join,” she recalls. “We’re up to 650.” Members are encouraged to contact state leaders to express their business challenges and seek answers about future event guidelines. “Personally, my company’s revenue is down 60 percent compared to last year,” says Barbera, who employs 18 independent contractors.
Some vendors have turned creative to keep busy in lieu of weddings, like Luke Renchan Entertainment, which orchestrates drive-by birthday celebrations with a DJ in tow, and backyard movie nights. While hopeful weddings will return to “some sense of normalcy” by November, most of Renchan’s couples are postponing or rescheduling to 2021; he’s currently partnered with Artistic Wedding Films to stream small weddings “so that they can connect with their audience outside the limitations.”
Venues, too, have been forced to react and adapt. Typically, The Towers in Narragansett has weddings booked every weekend now through the end of the year. Event Coordinator Donna DiCicco says the oceanfront venue has seen few cancellations. “Most we’ve been moving to 2021, but it’s a test to see what we have available,” she explains.
Photographer Maria Burton began contacting her couples in April, encouraging them to reach out to their venue to discuss options. More than half of the weddings she had booked this year have rescheduled to 2021, which presents its own challenge. “Some people feel really strongly about getting married on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, which I completely understand, but sometimes we’re already booked,” she says. “We’re all trying to make the best of the situation; it’s out of our control and my focus is how I can serve my clients.”
Similarly, Karen Tungett, general manager and co-owner of Blackstone Caterers, empathizes with her brides and grooms, who have to make the difficult decision of rescheduling, postponing, or cancelling. “Some clients have said they want to keep their date in 2020 and just downscale it, yet we still don’t know what that exactly means. Is it 20, 50, 100? Who knows, as it keeps changing,” explains Tungett.
Like with many, this uncharted territory has been hard on Tungett. “I’m in the business to make dreams come true, to make people happy, create their dream – not to see them all go through this.” But she’s focusing on the silver lining: “My sales team is still very active. Leads and bookings for 2021 are on fire because they realized that 2020 couples are moving into 2021. Soon enough we will be starting to book for 2022!”