CORONAVIRUS

High school students, vendors wait to see if coronavirus will scrap prom celebrations

Already postponed for some schools, 'this is not the kind of year our students expected or deserved'

Linn-Mar senior Ashlee Haumesser sits on her front porch in her prom dress in Marion on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Haumesse
Linn-Mar senior Ashlee Haumesser sits on her front porch in her prom dress in Marion on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Haumesser picked out her dress in January and it was recently delivered. Now, she waits to see if she will have a dance to attend with it. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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MARION — Two weeks after schools across the state were closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Ashlee Haumesser’s prom dress arrived at her door.

“It’s red and has a big, poofy skirt,” the Linn-Mar High School senior said. “And it has sparkles on it.”

The novel coronavirus has kept schools and non-essential businesses closed until at least April 30, though closures could go on longer if cases of the virus don’t level off this month.

For high school students, especially seniors, social distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus have jeopardized moments they expected to mark their final year of school, including prom dances and graduation ceremonies.

Linn-Mar’s prom is scheduled for May 16, and other area high schools, including Mount Vernon and Prairie, have their dances set for May 2 — just two days after schools would reopen if Gov. Kim Reynolds doesn’t extend her closure order.

“This is not the kind of year our students expected or deserved during this unprecedented crisis,” College Community School District spokesman Steve Doser said.

Some schools, including Marion and Solon high schools, already have opted to postpone prom.

“We recognize the importance of these milestone events for our students and will do what we can to provide those experiences in a manner that is also safe for all involved,” Marion Independent School District Superintendent Janelle Brouwer said.

She added that the district is considering alternative, remote options for graduation.

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Most high school graduation ceremonies in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area are clustered around Memorial Day weekend.

Students such as Haumesser hope the events go on, even if they’re delayed.

Many of her friends, she said, especially were looking forward to their senior prom and an after-party event at ImOn Ice — formerly the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena — which typically features a hypnotist.

“Only seniors can get hypnotized,” Haumesser said. “So a lot of my friends were looking forward to that opportunity.”

‘Money is not going to be flowing’

While the cancellation of such events will be a sentimental loss for the Class of 2020, it would also add to the financial strains restaurants, florists, hotels, seamstresses and other vendors already are facing.

“That money is not going to be flowing,” said Nancy Abram, who teaches retail at the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business. “Unless some of it is already sunk cost — and I think that’s going to be dresses.”

Jill Webb, the owner of Dream Dress, sold Haumesser her sparkly prom gown. She said customers at her pop-up shop at Lindale Mall started coming in excited to pick out and try on formal gowns with friends and family in January.

Sales were up in January and February and better than last year, she said, and she sold hundreds of dresses. Her sales usually dip during spring break and then pick back up again.

This year, schools announced that week they would not reopen on time, and soon after Lindale Mall was closed.

“Girls tend to shop pretty early for prom,” Webb said.

Her store usually has a no-return policy. If schools aren’t able to put on the dances, Webb said she’s considering changing the policy, but worries it would be a huge financial hit.

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“I haven’t decided yet,” she said. “If I did that, I’d probably go out of business.”

florists brace for loss of May business

Floral shops also would be hit hard by prom cancellations — a blow that would come on top of lost revenue from myriad events that typically drive business in May, including proms, graduations, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day.

“If all these things come to pass with them not opening it up, it’s going to be very devastating for the floral industry,” said Lora Dodd-Brosseau, owner of Lily and Rose Floral Studio in Marion.

“And funerals have ceased — most have chosen to not do any kind of service until after we’re past things because they want friends and family to be able to gather.”

The total impact of coronavirus on her business depends on when the state lifts social distancing guidelines — a widespread and proven strategy to slow the spread of the novel virus. Until then, Dodd-Brosseau said she is taking online orders and making no-contact deliveries.

“I’m trying to do my little part to spread as much joy as I can,” she said.

Prom alone accounts for about 30 percent of Roots in Bloom’s May sales, said Cassie Hammarmeister, the owner of the floral shop.

“We’re a local florist in downtown Marion, so we’ve got Marion schools, Anamosa, Alburnett, Cedar Rapids,” she said.

“It’s huge for us, and every single weekend we have proms. That’s a huge loss of sales for us, and we’ll have to figure out how to navigate around that and be way more creative — and just hustle. It’s been a constant hustle anyway.”

High school girls, or boys’ mothers, usually start ordering boutonnieres, corsages and handheld bouquets a few weeks before prom, Hammarmeister said. With stores closed until at least April 30, that won’t happen this year.

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“They’ll tell us, ‘This is the color of my dress,’ and we’ll go from there,” she said. “They’ve been thinking about this for quite some time.”

Finding new ways to ‘celebrate that chapter of your life’

In recent years, Hammarmeister said she’s noticed more students attending proms with large groups of friends rather than a date.

“We really encourage that,” she said. “Having it be a time of enjoying your classmates, even those you don’t typically hang out with and of not leaving anyone out. We’ve seen more and more of that.”

Haumesser, the high school senior, said she hopes to go to the dance with a group of about 20 friends and her boyfriend. If the dance isn’t held, she said they already are making contingency plans to at least take photos together in their gowns.

“I think these kids are going to do some different things to get together,” Hammarmeister said. “It pushes you to be more creative — all of us — and find new ways to connect and celebrate that chapter in your life.”

Last year, Haumesser’s boyfriend asked her to the dance in an elaborate proposal that involved gifts and corny puns. She’s still waiting for his official ask this year — but, she noted, she didn’t ask him to the “Women Pay All” earlier this school year until the day of the dance.

She said considering that, and everything else, he has time.

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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