Abigail and Mark Noack planned to have at least 350 guests at their March 21 wedding. Instead, they had 10 people — their deacon, immediate families and a photographer.
As social distancing restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus were implemented around the country over the last two weeks, the Noacks weren’t alone in having their wedding plans upended. The spring wedding season was just kicking off, and couples and vendors alike have been scrambling to adapt.
Abigail Noack said when she realized she’d have to upend her plans, it took some time to let go of the picture perfect wedding she had planned.
“The first three days I just spent crying, because it was kind of devastating,” she said.
The couple had planned a ceremony at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Guttenberg followed by a reception at Lakeside Ballroom. They still had the ceremony, albeit much smaller, but decided to postpone the reception. Instead, they had a small family gathering at her aunt and uncle’s shop. They hope to reschedule their big party when things have returned to normal.
Still, she said the day felt special — she still put on her wedding dress and was able to share a dance with her husband.
“It wasn’t what was expected, but it was really great,” she said.
Emily McMahon, owner of Soiree Wedding Planning in North Liberty said still finding a way to make the day special is important if couples decide to still get married on the day they had planned but can’t have their friends and family present.
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“I think they need to pretend they’re in front of a crowd of 300 people and do everything they had planned on doing on that same day,” she said. “Get your hair and makeup done, put your wedding dress on, go get that suit rented. Really take the time to enjoy everybody that day. If you can go through the motions of everything you were going to do, that might make it feel like it was still special.”
She spent the last two weeks helping couples with April and May weddings figure out what to do, which is made more tricky by the uncertainty of how long the current situation will last. Most are able to reschedule for a later date and keep their same vendors, which helps offset financial losses for both sides — but finding dates that are free and work for all the parties — including the couple, venue, photographer, caterer and DJ, to start with — can be like calendar Tetris.
“It’s a lot of trying to get people to understand the situation and understand the options,” she said. “Really, in my heart of hearts, I’m just hoping we are all going to get through this fine and will be able to get people married this summer.”
She said in some ways, she’s played the part of therapist as much as planner.
“Everybody is having different reactions to what’s going on,” she said. “I literally got a text message today saying we hope you can provide some marriage counseling for us.”
She said she’s also worried for the industry as a whole; there are a lot of small businesses involved in weddings, from hair salons to photographers to bakers to florists and more.
“It even trickles down the line to people like our cleaning companies and decor rental companies — nobody’s doing business. The impact is much further than you’d ever imagine,” said Megan Knatz, owner of Cedar Rapids events venue Ashton Hill Farm. “We populate hotels with family and friends who travel in, we are at restaurants for rehearsal dinners and brunches the next morning.”
Even if the weddings being upended now are all rescheduled, the income will be hard to make up, because there are only a finite number of prime wedding dates available in a year. Most people want to get married on Saturdays, with some on Fridays and Sundays, between May and November. She had 15 weddings planned at her venue in March and April. If restrictions last into May, that will be another 18 weddings between Cedar Rapids and a second location she was on the verge of opening in Galena, Illinois. If all of those are rescheduled for weekend dates, she can’t book new clients in those slots. Some she has been able to reschedule in 2020; others have already had to move to 2021.
“We have 87 weddings planned in 2020, so we don’t have many dates to give away,” she said. “The longer this lasts, the greater the impact will be.”
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To help with the calendar crunch, she’s offering incentives like bar credits to couples willing to get married on an off-peak days, and she’s helping them come up with alternatives to their original plans if needed.
She’s trying to stay positive and encouraging her clients to do the same.
“These are events that have been planned for years and it’s a very significant day for people,” she said. “I’ve been telling clients, you will get married, it will happen … When this does pass, these are going to be the parties of the year.”
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