It should have been the perfect day. After getting engaged last year, Katie Desmond and Pedro Martins were set to walk down the aisle on May 9 at St. Ann’s Church in Wilmington. Instead, months into the coronavirus pandemic, the day passed like any other. They’re among a wave of couples who have been forced to change course.
For Katie and Pedro, it meant postponing. As their wedding date neared and the probability of a May celebration became less and less likely, their wedding planner, Samantha Diedrick of Secretariat in Wilmington, worked with the couple to make alternate arrangements, setting an August date with their vendors. “It was a pretty easy decision because we were just too worried about family not being able to make it,” says Katie, a Delaware native. She and Pedro currently reside in Indiana, where she attended school and Pedro is a doctoral student.
Originally from Brazil, Pedro’s family and friends live all over the world. “My best man, my wedding party are all based in Brazil. My sister and my grandparents live in Portugal,” he says. With travel bans, “it made sense to postpone the wedding.”
Thanks to accommodating vendors, moving the date proved relatively simple. All they had to do was notify guests—who’d already received invitations by mail—something Diedrick’s team helped them handle.
But as the pandemic raged on, the death toll rose, and stay-at-home orders stood firm, even an August wedding started to seem implausible. For a second time, the couple made the decision to postpone. Taking as little risk as possible, they chose a date in September 2021. “It wasn’t an easy decision,” admits Katie of the second postponement. “It forces you to evaluate what’s most important to you out of everything that goes into the wedding.”
Having family and friends present—and safe—was high on that list. But so was a legal union. “We really didn’t want to compromise on the celebration. We still wanted the chance to have all of our friends and family there with us,” adds Katie.
Determined to tie the knot this year, the couple will host an intimate ceremony at St. Ann’s come August. Depending on state guidelines, local family members will also be invited.
However disappointing, they’re looking at the upside: “Now, we can celebrate our engagement again and have two wedding dates,” says Pedro.
Couples throughout the region are facing similar struggles: do they move their wedding date and hope for the best in the future, or do move forward with drastically modified plans, adhering to the vague and ever-changing guidelines for group gatherings?
As of June 1, Delaware Governor John Carney has allowed for outdoor gatherings of up to 250 guests with appropriate protocols in place—including guidelines for sanitizing high-tough surfaces, plus serving and seating restrictions—while indoor gatherings remain restricted to a maximum of 10 people.
In Pennsylvania, the state transitioned from a red to yellow phase on June 5. While many restrictions remain in place, Gov. Tom Wolf’s guidelines allow for gatherings of up to 25 individuals.
Couples must decide if such restrictions will allow them to celebrate the way they want, taking into consideration that guests and vendors will likely have to wear face masks, hand sanitizer will need to be plentiful, and dancing, at least for guests, may be prohibited or relegated to shifts. “That would be a wonderful concession,” says Secretariat’s Diedrick of dancing in shifts, compared with an all out ban. “We’re all willing to be as creative as we have to be.” Even with such regulations, Diedrick warns that some guests, especially those at higher risk of infection, may not feel comfortable attending a large gathering. “I think right now the biggest frustration for all of us is the unknown,” she says.
Most of the couples she works with have chosen to postpone their weddings, with just a small number canceling altogether. “They should be enjoying this process, they should be excited for their wedding day,” she adds. While her spring and summer weddings have moved dates, some are still planning for fall nuptials in hopes of safer conditions. “My October [couples] are absolutely holding out hope, and they have the luxury of time right now,” Diedrick says. “I just want everyone to be safe, and I want my clients to be happy about their weddings.”
While many couples may have postponed their celebrations until 2021, a number are choosing to legally tie the knot now. That’s what Erica Razze and her fiancé Blake DiGiacomo did. A wedding planner herself—she owns Capiche Custom Events which offers wedding and corporate event planning in Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania—Razze experienced first-hand how couples were being forced to adapt. Her own May nuptials were among those postponed. Rather than forego a wedding this year, Razze and her fiancé held an intimate 10-person ceremony at home the same weekend they were originally meant to get married.
A traditional celebration and possibly a vow renewal will take place next May. But getting to that point required quick thinking. Back in February, Razze started to recognize her wedding might not go as planned and started making arrangements. With bachelor and bachelorette parties, plus a bridal shower planned for March, they were forced to face the impending crisis. After a candid conversation with their parents, the couple agreed that postponing was the best solution. The couple was able to secure all of their vendors, including their venue, Hagley.
“It was the best thing for us,” says Razze. “At that moment, my mom felt relief, I felt relief, and we were able to then accordingly plan what this meant.” They weren’t the only ones who felt a weight lifted. “Our guests felt a huge sense of relief,” says Razze, noting that, prior to wide-spread stay-at-home orders in March, some relatives and family members expressed concerns about traveling.
With her own wedding plans finalized once more, “I was able to focus all the attention on the other couples who were just starting to navigate that path,” bringing valuable personal insight to the process, says Razze.
That process isn’t just difficult for couples—vendors are struggling in the wake of stay-at-home orders and restrictions at the height of wedding season in May and June. “Postponed or canceled weddings means lots of lost revenue,” says Razze, especially for those with product-based services like bakers, caterers and florists.
While couples who moved early were able to snag prime dates for next year, some vendors are juggling a sudden influx of postponements paired with recently engaged couples looking to book dates in 2021. That’s leading to more unusual days to tie the knot. “Thursdays are the new Fridays and Sundays are becoming even more popular,” says Razze, noting even Mondays are seeing an uptick.
Already a growing trend, Razze foresees the rise of micro-weddings post-pandemic. “I think there will actually be an appreciation for them in addition to them just being trendy,” she says of the celebrations which typically are capped at 50 people, but are often smaller. “These new kinds of weddings really peel back all of the noise.” Such celebrations may also become the norm this year, with larger celebrations to follow when it’s safe.
Diedrick agrees that weddings likely will be smaller in the immediate future, but unlike Razze, she predicts, at least for her clients, that larger celebrations will again flourish when allowed. “Similar to other events that I saw decline years ago come back, I would hope and think [larger weddings] will,” she adds, likening this to the last economic downturn, when large holiday parties went out of style, but returned during more prosperous times. Like weddings pre-pandemic, it’s a matter of personal taste. One thing both are certain of: even in such unprecedented times, love will blossom and weddings will continue.
“There’s something uniquely defining about this moment in time and it’s really amazing to still be able to capture love. Love does not stop and we just have to adapt. Being able to be a part of that and capture that and move forward with that is really special.” —Erica Razze, Capiche Custom Events
While couples are postponing their wedding celebrations, they aren’t waiting to get engaged. Chrysa Cohen, owner of Continental Jewelers in Wilmington, has experienced an unusual sense of urgency among her clients since she reopened by appointment only last month. “The pandemic absolutely has made people want to make decisions faster,” she says.
It’s an unusual turn of events for her. Previously, engagement couples would try on dozens of rings, consider customized options and take some time before returning to purchase a ring. “Jewelry has longevity. It’s an emotional investment. We have always taken the approach that we want to help you find the perfect piece that makes your eyes light up, that every time you look at it you get a little warm, glowy feeling. We tend to take our time,” says Cohen. Now, customers are making diamond decisions the same day.
Not only are her customer’s acting faster, they’re also spending more, Cohen says. “Almost everyone has spent, if not a little bit more, than significantly more, than [the budget they] started with.” One customer, she notes, even doubled his budget on an engagement ring. “It’s almost like since we don’t know what the future holds, [engagement ring buyers view] this is a gift, this is symbolic of who we are and I want the world to know and I want her to know,” Cohen adds. “People are really living in the minute.”
After decades in the business, she’s never seen anything like it. “The concern about the future and how long it’s all going to last and everybody’s place and space in the world is shaken a little,” Cohen says. “I think they’re looking for things that are concrete and feel steady and safe and comfortable. And certainly celebrating a relationship, whatever that is, does that. It’s emotional security.”
Like all businesses, jewelers have been forced to adapt to the changing times and guidelines. For Cohen, that means stringent sanitizing of high-touch surfaces and any jewelry or tools touched during an appointment.
Those guidelines are having ripple effects on other wedding businesses, like photo booth companies. The once fun, ubiquitous wedding entertainment and keepsake is now under threat, forcing area vendors to pivot. Kelli Wilke, a regional photographer, is fortunate to do commercial work in addition to weddings. But with social distancing requirements and financial cutbacks, even those aren’t providing the same level of security. Wilke worries about her photo booth business, Piper Booth Co., and is currently looking into ways to incorporate digital props and more open-air concepts to maximize safety.
As for weddings, with postponements to fall and next year, it’s leading to hectic schedules for the photographer. Still, Wilke recognizes she’s in a better position than photographers who exclusively shoot weddings. But there’s still a great deal of uncertainty. Even though a number of her couples postponed their weddings to this fall, “I fully expect to have a lot of fall weddings get moved again to next year,” she says. While that will deliver a financial blow, Wilke understands. “I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t have a wedding with people in masks and no dancing.”
With so much still unknown, local vendors are joining forces, relying on one another in ways they might not have before. Online communities and forums have popped up. There, they discuss best practices, speculate about what’s ahead and lean on one another to cover dates they no longer can. “We definitely have a good community and we really try to help each other out,” says Wilke. “We also need to be able to refer to each other because if we can’t rebook a date, we’ve got to have somebody that we trust to take over those weddings for us.”
Despite all the uncertainty, one thing is for sure: love will persist and weddings—however they may look—will carry on. “There’s something uniquely defining about this moment in time and it’s really amazing to still be able to capture love,” says Razze. “Love does not stop and we just have to adapt. Being able to be a part of that and capture that and move forward with that is really special.”
If all goes to plan, on Sept. 4, 2021, Katie and Pedro will finally get to celebrate their marriage the way they always meant to. “It’ll be the start of the next chapter of our life,” says Katie. “Our friends and family are so meaningful and they’re such a big part of our life. I can’t wait to have them there to celebrate and really feel all the support that they’ve given us throughout the years.” In times like these, what more could a couple hope for?