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From I don’t to I do: Those in the wedding industry cautiously optimistic for better 2021 season

  • Greenfield-based photographer Matthew Cavanaugh said he was “straight up unemployed” during the initial months of the pandemic. “That’s normally a slower time anyway ... , but not a week went by without someone canceling those first weeks.” CONTRIBUTED/MATTHEW CAVANAUGH PHOTOGRAPHY

  • In a normal year, Peterson Productions owner Matt Peterson said he will work anywhere from 50 to 100 weddings between May and October. “Last year, we lost everything — we had no weddings whatsoever. 2020 was a total bust,” Peterson said. CONTRIBUTED/MATT PETERSON

  • “People still wanted to get married, and we were able to at least provide them the space for the ceremony,” Mountain Rose Inn owner Kasey Richards said, reflecting on the 2020 wedding season at her Greenfield venue. “We have this wonderful view, so they were still able to get some great photographs.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/FOUR WINGS PHOTOGRAPHY

  • Mountain Rose Inn owner Kasey Richards said her Greenfield venue lost 97 percent of its usual wedding business opportunities in 2020. While business was slower, Richards said the Mountain Rose Inn took the time to conduct renovations and upgrade the rooms of its bed and breakfast. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/FOUR WINGS PHOTOGRAPHY

  • While business was slower in 2020, Mountain Rose Inn owner Kasey Richards said she used the grounds of the Greenfield venue to hold photoshoots to showcase what a “micro-wedding” would look like. CONTRIBUTED/FOUR WINGS PHOTOGRAPHY

  • “We didn’t have any weddings last year,” said Montague Retreat Center owner Bill Jacobson. “This year, things are starting a bit late, in May and early June, but once you get to June the rest of the season is booked. ... I think business will be very hot next year. We’re getting a lot of 2022 inquiries.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/MONTAGUE RETREAT CENTER

  • The Montague Retreat Center hosts one wedding per weekend, for 24 weeks from May through October. Owner Bill Jacobson said the venue has 17 of 24 slots booked for 2021, with half of those dates occupied by couples who rescheduled from 2020. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/MONTAGUE RETREAT CENTER

Staff Writer
Published: 3/16/2021 7:11:20 PM

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a weeklong series honoring the one-year anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After COVID-19 case numbers first spiked last spring, waves of weddings were postponed or canceled due to health concerns and limitations on public gatherings — causing local wedding venues, caterers and related businesses to lose more than 90 percent of their business opportunities in 2020.

Now, after a full year, to-be-wed couples may be able to save their date with more family and friends in attendance, as reception venues and public event spaces will be allowed up to 100 guests indoors and 150 outside as the state moves into Phase 4, Step 1 on March 22. Private gathering limits will remain at 25 outdoors and 10 indoors.

“The last year was definitely tough, with most people rescheduling,” said Mountain Rose Inn owner Kasey Richards said. “A handful canceled entirely.”

According to Richards, Mountain Rose Inn on Smead Hill Road in Greenfield lost 97 percent of its usual wedding business in 2020. While business was slower, Richards said the venue took the time to conduct renovations and upgrade the rooms of its bed and breakfast, along with other aspects of the space.

Many people in the wedding industry “got very creative” as they sought alternative modes of income during the pandemic, and Richards said she used the grounds of Mountain Rose Inn to hold photo shoots with models and food vendors set up to showcase what a “micro-wedding” would look like.

While the venue lost most of its business for larger weddings, Richards said a handful of couples did continue with smaller ceremonies, socially distanced with family, and no receptions. Other couples livestreamed their ceremony for friends and family to watch at home.

“People still wanted to get married, and we were able to at least provide them the space for the ceremony,” Richards said. “We have this wonderful view, so they were still able to get some great photographs.”

In addition to extended capacity, Richards said Phase 4, Step 1 will again allow for dance floors at receptions. Richards said the inability to have dance floors played a large factor in couples’ decisions to postpone during 2020.

“For our couples with ceremonies coming up this season, they are thrilled,” Richards said. “Some of the big things you think about when you think of a wedding are dance floors, music and celebration. … The no-dance-floor mandate was what really drove the nail in the coffin of our 2020 wedding season.”

Richards said her email inbox is already starting to fill with inquiries from engaged couples looking for open wedding dates this year and into 2022.

Montague Retreat Center owner Bill Jacobson said operations may start late this spring, but he agreed with Richards that overall, it looks to be a significantly better wedding season than 2020.

The Montague Retreat Center on Ripley Road typically hosts one wedding per weekend, for 24 weeks from May through October. Jacobson said he has 17 of 24 slots booked, with weekends in early spring remaining empty, and two weekends in August open after cancellations. Half of the booked dates are from couples who rescheduled from last year.

“We didn’t have any weddings last year,” Jacobson said. “This year, things are starting a bit late, in May and early June, but once you get to June the rest of the season is booked. ... I think business will be very hot next year. We’re getting a lot of 2022 inquiries.”

While the 2022 season may be promising, Jacobson said he is dealing with health issues, and he and his wife, Elizabeth, intend to sell the business at the end of this season to an interested buyer.

Musical entertainment

Matt Peterson has owned Peterson Productions in downtown Northampton for 32 years, and he is the vice president of the National Association of Mobile Entertainers, or NAME. In a normal year, Peterson works anywhere from 50 to 100 weddings between May and October.

“Last year, we lost everything — we had no weddings whatsoever. 2020 was a total bust,” Peterson said.

He said he was booked to work up to seven events per week, but that all went away in mid-March 2020. Looking at the year ahead, Peterson is cautiously optimistic, saying there is no guarantee of a normal year for wedding entertainers and disc jockeys. As the ones responsible for maintaining the atmosphere and actual “party level” of receptions, Peterson said he is usually among the first to arrive and the last to leave — even caterers may leave after the food has been served.

If state restrictions limit the time that a number of people can spend at venues, like time limits for visiting restaurants, it may still impact DJs’ abilities to work receptions. Despite these reservations, he said Peterson Productions will find its way back into the swing of things.

“Quality entertainment never goes out of style, and great entertainment never goes away,” Peterson said.

Catering

With the catering business affected alongside the wedding industry, Bernardston residents Patrick and Cindy O’Hearn learned to reinvent themselves this past year.

Since purchasing Hillside Organic Catering in 2018, the O’Hearns had two wedding seasons under their belt and were gearing up for a third. Cindy O’Hearn said the company was set to cater roughly 40 events, mostly weddings, in 2020 before the COVID-19 outbreak arrived. Patrick O’Hearn said the past season looked to be the best yet, until the pandemic hit and brought everything to a standstill.

Patrick O’Hearn said they lost about 90 percent of their expected business opportunities for 2020. To keep working, the O’Hearns opened Curbside Comfort, a takeout food business, for most of the year. The last weekend for Curbside Comfort was Feb. 27, and outstanding gift certificates can be used for full value at Hillside Pizza in Bernardston, as the O’Hearns turn their attention to a new catering season.

Photography

Greenfield-based photographer Matthew Cavanaugh estimated weddings are 60 percent of his business opportunities in a normal year. He also takes photos for some private schools in the area, and events including business conferences in Boston. These opportunities were all canceled in 2020.

“The initial months of the pandemic, I was straight-up unemployed,” Cavanaugh said. “That’s normally a slower time anyway, and I plan around seasonal income, but not a week went by without someone canceling those first weeks. It was pretty upsetting initially.”

He said he felt grateful to be able to continue to accommodate wedding clients’ requests to reschedule, and some couples are now on their third or fourth potential wedding date. Some clients held micro-weddings and he has taken pictures at these small ceremonies, with plans to also photograph their receptions at a later date.

Cavanaugh said he photographed one outdoor wedding in Northampton where it was just the couple, himself and a justice of the peace, with their phones livestreaming the ceremony to friends back home. He also photographed a wedding in Central Park in New York City with just 10 people for a client who originally planned a 200-person wedding in the Berkshires.

While Cavanaugh said micro-weddings have proved to be “cool, interesting” experiences, he is also optimistic for a busier, more “normal” 2021 wedding season.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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