“There are no banquets to do, no meals to cook, no rooms to clean. There’s nothing to do. … With no more than 10 people in one place, our industry is nonexistent right now. We’re at a complete standstill.”
The timing couldn’t be worse for event vendors, whose calendars are usually full starting around this time every year. Wedding season, after all, is typically considered the period from late spring to early fall.
Katrina Hutchins is an event planner and designer in Charlotte and fears that in a few months, many of the business she works with will just cease to exist.
“I’ve been in business for nine years,” she says, “and to think some of these people won’t be here is heart breaking.”
For one wedding, Hutchins says, she typically works with at least 20 vendors — from florists and caterers to furniture rental companies and transportation services.
All of that lost business trickles down, she says.
“People don’t come into town. They don’t use Ubers, they don’t stay in hotels. The trickle down is more damaging than ‘Oh sorry, we cant have a wedding.’ A wedding is the least of concerns, really, when you consider the greater economy.”
Spring is also a major season for nonprofit fundraisers, many of which make up a significant chunk of their annual giving.
Canceling these events, while necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 or novel coronavirus, is crippling for some industries.
“I’ve talked to caterers that have lost millions of dollars. Big galas are a six-figure catering job,” Hutchins says. “I can’t stress how much nonprofit galas will lose.”
Event planner and designer Ivy Robinson says she had two big fundraising events planned for April that’ll now be held later in the year.
The worst part about the outbreak, she says, is how unpredictable it is.
“We have no idea what’s going to happen,” Robinson says. “But I’m a very positive person. I think 100 percent we’re going to bounce back and come back stronger.”
The good news is, from what Robinson has seen so far, events are being postponed, not canceled all together. But that means many vendors are without pay until then.
Couples who had to postpone their weddings are losing money, too.
They may be able to recoup the cost of limo service or renting furniture, but not for perishable items like food and flowers.
Hutchins says those situations are tough. On the one hand, it’s hard to ask a couple to spend money on something that’s not happening right now. On the other hand, the vendors need to stay afloat — and they’ve already put in a lot of leg work.
Melanie Branam, owner of New Creations Flowers, was just gearing up to go into busy season when the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic. Now, her spring weddings have moved to late summer; beyond that, it’s hard to say what’ll happen.
Most flowers arrive from overseas, so it’s unclear whether customers will end up getting what they want, Branam says.
“The flower farmers are honestly going to be the ones to get hit big time because no one is buying their flowers, she adds.
Branam also said she’s worried about new inquiries slowing down. For the most part, couples with weddings already planned are rescheduling. But newly engaged couples will likely want to wait things out.
Event planners say that if you are in the planning process for a big event, wedding or otherwise, keep going. It can help pull small businesses through this scary time.
“If you know you’re going to have a wedding next year or a huge birthday party, go ahead and starting booking things if you can. It’s super helpful to know there’s business down the line,” Hutchins said.
Still, with no money coming in right now, small business owners are having to make gut-wrenching decisions.
Dan Hooks, the owner of Party Reflections, had to lay off 100 of his 200 employees earlier this week.
“The event industry has come to a screeching halt,” he says. “It hit us first, more so than the rest of sectors of business. We started feeling it two to three weeks ago when we had our first cancelation. It ramped up really quickly the last week and half.”
Party Reflections provides tents and other rentable equipment and accessories for weddings, PGA Tour events, and nonprofits galas, etc.
With barely any of that happening, there’s little work to do. They’ve been helping with tenting for pop-up testing sites, which has been enough to at least keep some of the staff occupied, Hooks says.
The hope is that all of this is temporary, and he can hire his staff back soon.
“We’ve been here for 62 years. I don’t intend to walk away from this. It’s too important for our families.”
Dan says early impacts of coronavirus feel a lot like what happened after 9/11, the uncertainty and timing of it being busy season for the events industry.
“9/11 forever changed Christmas parties. They used to be a lot bigger. I’m looking for something like that to change after this, but I can’t see specifically what might change,” he said.
Rich Moyer, the owner of Hoppin’, says coronavirus has been a huge financial hit to his business, too. Corporate events, Moyer says, are what his business needs Monday through Friday to keep its doors open.
“They provide our taprooms with sales during our slower times and provide our staff with income to help support their families,” Moyer says.
Moyer is getting creative by hosting live music streaming events and offering growler fill-up specials.
Chere’ Velazquez with Norfolk Hall says the same thing. They’ve had to move 13 events so far, and they’re anticipating having to move another 15 as things progress.
The event industry is an undeniably tough space to be in right now, and despite suffering through loss, industry professionals remain hopeful.
“Community is built on relationships, gathering of people, celebrations of whatever kind. People need that for morale and everything else. We feel like it’ll come back and be just as strong,” Hooks says. “We’re still here, and we’ll see you when things get bright again.”
Header image courtesy of Millie Holloman photography