CORONAVIRUS

No weddings? Iowa bakers, photographers, event center owners wait it out, innovate in midst of coronavirus

Jamie and Scott Rosekrans, events manager and general manager, respectively, at the Epic Event Center in Marion on Tuesd
Jamie and Scott Rosekrans, events manager and general manager, respectively, at the Epic Event Center in Marion on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Social gatherings are on hold due to the coronavirus, and the Rosekrans are working to reschedule wedding bookings for later in the season. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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It can take a lot of people to stage a wedding. But these days of waiting out the pandemic and Gov. Kim Reynolds’ restrictions on social gatherings, instead of gearing up for their busy season, a lot of those people are on hold, along with their clients.

“They are holding off pretty strong,” said Emily Kucera of Cedar Rapids. “They’re so unsure.

“Even my winter weddings this year are pretty nervous. The invitation’s pretty final — once it’s in their hands, you don’t want to go back.”

Instead of meeting couples to plan fall weddings, Kucera, whose EmDesign supplies custom invitations and place cards, is “doing a lot of rescheduling.”

“Most of those spring weddings had already sent out invitations, so we’re working with them to send out change-the-date cards,” she said.

“Most couples are holding off,” agreed Danielle Chargo, owner of Iron Leaf Press in Mount Vernon. “A few that were supposed to be in May are moving to the fall now. So I’m working on late summer, fall, and even those are holding off.”

The uncertainty extends to caterers, bakers, photographers and event venues.

“I’m down probably 65 percent,” said Juli Junge Hardin, owner of Jules Bakery in Marion. “It’s very bad, but it’s very bad for everybody, especially in food service.”

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Instead of gearing up for the spring wedding season, Junge Hardin and others are trying to get a handle on how long social distancing will continue.

“Weddings are extremely important to my business,” she said. “We spend all year long marketing and working with brides and grooms trying to get everything perfect for their day, then we have something like this and we have to postpone.”

For now, Jules Bakery is open for curbside takeout.

“Birthdays haven’t been canceled, so people have been calling for birthday cakes and small celebration cakes,” Junge Hardin said. She’s unsure what graduation season will bring.

“I’ve had people say ‘We’re just going to do a small celebration,’ I’ve had people say ‘We’re going to push it out until it’s a better time,’ and I’ve had people say, ‘We’re not even going to have a party,’” she said.

“I think this summer we’re going to see small gatherings.”

Staying calm, staying positive

“Our first wedding would’ve been tomorrow,” Jami Rosekrans said earlier this week. “We’re staying as calm as possible.”

Rosekrans, event manager at Epic Event center in Marion, started fielding calls as Iowans settled into isolation.

“We’re just reassuring them that this wedding they’ve been planning since they’re little girls is going to happen,” she said. “We’re allowing our brides and grooms to change their dates to anything that’s open, whether a date later this year or a date in 2021.”

“We had multiple weddings postpone or reschedule,” photographer Jess Denton said. “I have three in limbo right now.

“They’re just not sure what’s going to happen with them.”

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Adam Covington, owner of Eastbank Venue and Lounge, in the former Smulekoff building in downtown Cedar Rapids, has had a few cancellations but still is fielding inquiries.

“A couple of brides looking at having destination weddings have canceled, but for the most they’ve rescheduled for later in the year or 2021,” he said. “We’ve still been booking for 2021 and 2022.”

“When the governor said restaurants and bars shut down, we were saying, ‘OK, what do we do?’” said Bob Walker, owner of Walker Homestead, which is located on an 85-acre farm near Iowa City. “We’re really fortunate in that we have other revenue streams. Those that are strictly venues? I don’t know what they’re doing.”

Diversity is critical for business’ chances at surviving beyond quarantine, said Walker, who’s also a lecturer in management and entrepreneurship at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business.

“You’ve always heard, Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” he said. “That’s more true now than ever. We try to stay positive, try to stay creative, and just pivot as much as we could.”

Walker Homestead’s farm-to-table restaurant now hosts virtual wine tastings on Saturday nights, with the wine and food delivered to participants’ homes.

Takeout and delivery also are available Sundays, and summer plans are shifting to sales through its on-site farm stand and community-supported agriculture program.

Walker recently hired a winemaker and farm manager.

“We’re the crazy ones that hired right in the middle of a pandemic,” he said. “I wouldn’t do anything different. We wouldn’t be successful without them.”

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Kucera’s launched a Sending Smiles campaign with accompanying postcards. She said she’s sold “a couple hundred” cards so far, with an equal number on order.

“It’s a good social-distancing activity for students and kids,” she said. “I’ve had teachers purchase them to send out to their students to try and keep in touch, and some are also sending them to nursing home residents.”

“A lot of people are trying to use this time to write letters and greeting cards to stay connected,” said Chargo. Iron Leaf’s storefront closed March 21, but online sales are holding up.

“Journals and pens, I’ve been selling some of that, too,” she said. “People are home with the kids, we’ve got colored pencils. People are trying to do things creative while they’re stuck at home.”

Documenting life

Pandemic precautions also claimed college and high school graduation celebrations, another source of spring revenue.

“I’ve pretty much said that’s not going to happen until at least June,” Junge Hardin said.

“That’s been devastating, not seeing my high school seniors graduate and go to prom,” Denton said. “We’re having seniors cancel shooting for next year.”

Denton’s Monroe and Co. also includes a hair salon, which is shut down through at least mid-May. All five employees are idle.

“The only way they’re getting money is if people buy gift cards,” she said. “The entire business is unemployed.”

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Denton offers “front porch shoots”— two-to-five-minute sessions with families on their front porches. She stands across the front yard from her subjects.

“My goal for them is to give them something tangible to look back on this time with,” she said. “A lot of them are just wearing their sweats and their comfy clothes and truly documenting how life is right now.”

The project has taken Denton to Des Moines, Keystone and Iowa City. She doesn’t charge for the shoots, but “I’ve had a lot send me tips, which is greatly appreciated.”

Denton also has lost photo sessions with families and newborns.

“Because I’m a very hands-on photographer, I’m going to postpone those until I’m really comfortable,” she said. “Once things start opening up, I’ll probably do things where I can stay really far away.

“I will wear a mask, I will wear gloves, I will keep my distance, but I will never bail on a couple.”

Junge Hardin counts the pandemic as Jules Bakery’s fourth major crisis since opening in 2001. The others were 9/11, the 2008 flood and the 2008-09 Great Recession.

“It can be very emotional for some people,” she said. “My response is, ‘Hey, we got this. We’ve been through this before we’re going to do it again.’”

“It’s a waiting game until we’re told what we can actually do,” Rosekrans said. “It’s taking a toll, but it’s just knowing we’re all in this together.

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“We want to get back to normal, but we want to do it at an appropriate time in an appropriate manner. We don’t want to run into another spike.”

“I don’t think we have coronavirus figured out yet,” Walker said. “Until we get it figured out or come up with some vaccines, I think we should plan on our first big wedding in a year from now. Thank God, I have a day job.”

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.