Many engaged couples on the North Fork and beyond were looking forward to this time of year. With the weather warming up and the flowers blooming, wedding season was supposed to be upon us.
But even as dresses and tuxes had been bought and rented, floral arrangements designed and menus set, the COVID-19 shut down of New York has grinded the industry to a halt. What was meant to be a time of excitement has turned into a period of rebooking, rescheduling or canceling, impacting vendors who count on this time of year for a significant portion of their income.
Kaitlyn Ferris, a North Fork based photographer, shot her last wedding on March 14. Now, 14 of the 42 weddings she had scheduled for 2020 have been moved to a later date, with her next wedding scheduled for July likely to also be moved.
“It comes in waves,” she said. “The early spring couples are rescheduling for fall. Now, as it’s getting further into the year, a lot of my couples are opting to reschedule for next year because it’s just such an unknown.”
Weddings are a $72 billion dollar industry in the U.S., with couples on average spending about $32,000 on a single event. On the North Fork, many caterers, venues and florists rely on April through October to bring in the vast majority of their income for the year.
“I’m hoping for September. If that were true, then we might do half of the business,” said Matt Kar, chef-owner of Christopher Michael Catering. “If we don’t get started with catering at some point, it’s going to be really hard, because we rely on the money the catering makes.” Kar has had seven of his events cancelled in May alone and estimates that 60 percent of his annual revenue comes from this peak wedding season.
With more than 30 wineries on the North Fork, the vineyards are a popular spot for weddings, and many rely on this time of year to bring in some extra cash flow.
“The weddings, it’s gravy,” said John Larsen, general manager of Pellegrini Vineyards. The Cutchogue vineyard, which is also closed to tastings during the pandemic, typically hosts 14 weddings a year. Four have been postponed so far. “Not having that additional income is major and we will definitely be feeling the effects of it.”
Some places rely almost entirely on weddings for their revenue stream and this season is critical. Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue is one of those places.
“We’ve got to refigure things for the season,” said owner Prudence Heston. “That is no small feat when you’re geared up to do one thing and then you have to move things around.”
To make up for rescheduled events, they are offering the flowers they grow on their farm, typically used for weddings, for retail sale and the honey from their apiaries, typically for favors, are being sold directly to consumers.
“It’s a matter of finding other markets,” Heston said. “I’m hoping that the general population is going to be receptive to it because otherwise it’s going to be hard to pay the bills.”
For those couples who were hoping to get married this season, Salt Air Farms is also running a special — open air vow exchanges. For $500, couples will get one bouquet, one boutonniere and a dove release and can use the farm as a venue, bringing along their own officiant, photographer and up to four additional guests.
Some wedding vendors are looking outside of the industry for additional income to get them through the next few months. Grace and Grit, a catering and event planning business, still has some smaller events or extremely paired down weddings on the books, but that won’t be enough to make up the difference.
“It’s like selling a steak or selling eggs,” said partner Jennilee Morris. “We keep busy with smaller events, but the weddings are definitely our bread and butter.” With an expected 70 percent of their annual intake coming from weddings that happen between April and October, Morris decided to open the catering business for takeout and delivery, something they’ve only done periodically in the past.
“We can’t sit around and not do events,” she said.
Another byproduct of postponing weddings because of the coronavirus is holding the special day on Thursdays, Fridays or Sundays, instead of the popular Saturday. As couples try to reschedule for the same or similar weekend in 2021, they are finding their vendors are already booked, so they choose a different day of the week. And for vendors, that means a slow 2020, and a very booked 2021, with potentially double the business.
“Now, [couples are] really apprehensive they’re not going to get their dates for next year,” said Julie Hanus, owner of Blooms by Design. “There’s only so many Saturdays in a year, so we’re getting Fridays and Sundays.” Hanus, who estimates 75 percent of her revenue comes from wedding season, is anticipating a busy 2021.
Ferris, who also expects a 2021 with double the weddings to photograph, looks at the money not as lost, but as shifted.
“Photography is such a freelance thing, but what I love so much about weddings is I’m contracted sometimes two years out,” she said. “You have contracts. You’re guaranteed the money, so I’m not so much thinking of it as lost money, because I will eventually make it.”
Hanus said she expects most vendors will be able to get through these challenging times.
“We’re a pretty flexible group — weddings are very fluid,” she said. “There’s a lot of moving parts, and we’re used to accommodating a lot of last minute changes and emergencies. If you can survive the year, I think you’ll be fine.”