SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — While businesses around the world were impacted by the shutdowns brought on by COVID-19, one of the hardest hit has been the wedding industry. No gatherings meant canceled events; a lot of plans changed, or thrown out entirely.
Here in Maine, weddings are a big piece of our economy, and wedding industry leaders are cautioning: if these events can't go on, the effects will hurt a lot more than just wedding planners and caterers.
Fausto Pifferrer and his partner Reuben Bell run Blue Elephant Events and Catering, and have spent years helping couples plan their weddings. In October, they opened a space in the Maine Mall with designer Laurie Andrews called Bash. “If you're a planner, you can touch and feel everything,” Andrews explains. “You can see examples of our rentals over here; we could actually set a table, pick the linen, pick the China, so it was a great way to be able to sell, be able to touch things which is different now because of COVID.”
“Everything shut down on March 13th,” Pifferrer explains. “Literally it was that Friday we got the word nothing was open, everything closed… Having survived 9/11 in this industry and the recession, I never thought COVID was going to be the one that put a pin in everything.”
Weddings planned for April, May, June, and July have either been completely redesigned or canceled explains Bell, “We're facing going into the off-season not having had an on season.” Pifferrer had a thought: What if those within the industry banded together for a campaign to keep their couples on the path toward their dream wedding? “Will and Lucia helped with the “Postpone, Don't Cancel” campaign and we photographed 30 professionals from across Maine; so as far away as Bangor and Augusta.”
“It was a lot more work for them than just a group photo would be because we had to photograph everyone separately and then combine them and Nora had to video people in different moments, no one could be with each other,” explains Will von Wenzel. Will and his wife Lucia run Focus Photography. “Everyone kind of pulled together to have one message and I think it was very positive.”
The idea behind the campaign is to inspire more couples to be flexible with their date, not with their day because ultimately, the cancellations are impacting a lot more than the wedding venues. “We are 12-million right now out of work in the event industry world, which is shocking. Maine is a $1-billion wedding industry,” explains Pifferrer. “When you look at hospitality with restaurants and hotels and I'm not saying we bring it all into them, but remember people are staying for three day weekends, sometimes longer, and they’re staying at hotels and eating at restaurants; they are shopping in town or wherever they are staying, and it's taking a big hit. Right now we are at $36-billion of a $155-125-billion dollar industry in this country alone.”
Which is why Commissioner Heather Johnson of the state's Department of Economic and Community Development has been involved in navigating the regulations and guidelines. As of right now, there are no set guidelines for events like weddings. “Really what we have are elements of individual guidelines that wedding venues have to then pick from,” explains Johnson. “So say we are going to have seated activity so that's this; or do you know whether we are going to have standing activity and that's this type of guidance; so absolutely it takes more work to find all of those activities and pieces for wedding venues, but because their work is so varied we've had to carve it out that way.”
“The wedding industry; catering, venues, photographers, DJs are all being completely overlooked,” says Sarah Maurer with 1812 Farm in Bristol. “What we do every weekend is put on really safe events. We know how to safely put on events outside at venues without water without heat without a lot of things, so trust us. Work with us, that's all we are asking.” As of now, a little budge as the state allows gatherings of up to 100 people. That gives wedding vendors a little more breathing room, but it certainly has changed the way weddings look. “The cost of doing a 50 person event has increased because of what we have to do to make our guests feel more comfortable,” explains Andrews.
“We are a small family owned company, and you can only weather so much of this before you can't do it anymore,” says Maurer. “That impacts not just us but our employees, our suppliers, you know there are other vendors downstream.”
“Postpone, Don't Cancel” has already gained steam, and many couples are now planning their weddings for Fridays or Sundays in 2021, but what next season looks like still remains to be seen. “Postpone, Don't Cancel,” is just saying ‘Let's just move your event from this year to next year.’ You're still going to have the fabulous event, it's going to be everything you dreamed of, it's just a year later. You're on pause, that's all we are asking,” says Pifferrer.