pros, faced with little to do, lost $1.1mil
Photo courtesy of Joanna Monger Photography, www.joannamonger.com
Lauren and Adam Matherly, who eloped at Belle Chapel in Snohomish, stand on the bank of the Snohomish River for a photo taken around the time of their wedding.
SNOHOMISH — This should be Rebecca Grant’s happiest time of the year.
She and her husband bought Twin Willow Gardens last fall, a bucolic six-acre wedding venue that complements her Kirkland wedding-planning business. She should be busy booking dates, finding vendors and attending to a myriad of other details.
Instead, her fledgling business is fighting for survival.
A state ban on large gatherings, followed by a shutdown of non-essential businesses since March 23 has largely stopped weddings.
Weddings pump about $20 to $30 million a year into the county’s economy, according to the Snohomish Wedding Guild, a consortium of 19 venue owners and 170 vendors within the Snohomish School District’s boundaries.
The county’s picturesque farm and mountain vistas attract couples throughout the region to about 30 venues that host more than 1,000 weddings from June through September.
Nonetheless, the guild will host its annual Snohomish Wedding Tour on May 31 —albeit virtually — at www.mysnohomishwedding.com
It gives couples a chance to check out venues, talk with vendors, and schedule future meetings to get more details.
“We didn’t want to just cancel it,” said PJ Parsons, president of the Snohomish Wedding Guild. “A lot of our vendors depend on this tour to get the bulk of their business.”
For Grant, the disruption caused her to reschedule half of the 56 weddings she had already booked this year, at a loss of more than $100,000.
If she does not re-open soon, her 2020 wedding season will be wiped out.
“It’s devastating,” Grant said. “There hasn’t been a really awesome day for the past two months.”
The sentiment reverberates throughout the industry.
Venue owners contract with local DJs, caterers, florists, photographers, and lodgers to form a vibrant economic chain.
“We all support each other. We’re all mom-and-pop businesses,” Parsons said.
The chain is being stretched to the breaking point.
In a survey by the guild and City of Snohomish, 49 respondents from wedding-related businesses reported losing a collective $1.14 million since March 1.
Respondents said more than half of 370 scheduled weddings in the county between March 1 and June 1 have been canceled. So have 124 bookings since June 1.
Most of the other weddings have been rescheduled for 2021, eroding profits by stealing prime dates from potential new bookings.
“The wedding industry is being sorely overlooked,” Grant said. “We have no way of bringing in income. I have a six-acre property sitting vacant. The financial stability of the venue depends on having weddings.”
Fueling anxiety is the fact that nobody knows exactly when large gatherings will be permitted again as Washington state reopens its economy in a series of four phases.
“I have been feeling a lot of weight of the unknown on behalf of my couples and the Snohomish wedding industry as a whole,” said Joanna Monger, a Snohomish wedding photographer.
“Weddings are notoriously stressful to plan anyway…It’s hard to get excited about something you are not 100 percent sure is going to happen, or at least not quite like you envisioned it.”
Bothell resident Caitlin Adkins signed up for the Snohomish wedding tour before the state’s bans on large gatherings came into effect. She booked a venue for her September 2021 nuptials, so she hopes to connect with vendors for catering, flowers, dress and accommodations.
“I am not as excited as I was originally. I wanted to feel the fabrics, awe over floral arrangements and be caught up in the magic of the planning process, something I feel like you can’t capture over the screen,” Adkins said. “I am going to make the most of it though. I will go hang out with my bridesmaids and we will virtually tour together, each with a different topic to explore.”
Grant, meanwhile, will continue with other owners pressing the state to include wedding venues when the state moves Snohomish County forward in the multi-phase reopening plan to Phase Two, which might happen as soon as June 1.
She said the venues could operate under the same guidelines proposed for restaurants, including restrictions on seating capacity and sanitation.
Then she could at least host dinners and smaller weddings to begin generating income again. “We can do it better (than restaurants),” Grant said. “Wedding planners are the most chameleon-like people on the planet. We’re built for emergencies.”
If she is not permitted to re-open in Phase Two, it could be mid-July or later before large gatherings are finally allowed.
Parsons, who owns an Everett company that provides DJs, said a couple of clients with scheduled July and August weddings are holding tight to see what happens.
Along with the rest of the wedding world.
“We’re trying to balance what’s legal with what’s practical and what’s ethical,” Parsons said. “It’s like juggling a chain saw, a cat and a bowling ball over a fire pit.”
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