While weddings are the backdrop for most of our favourite rom-coms, from Runaway Bride to The Wedding Planner and Bridesmaids, there has yet to be one depicting how to handle getting hitched during a global pandemic. Julia and J.Lo, where you at?
Wedding season is upon us but as we continue to practice social distancing and stay home in a collective effort to flatten the curve and grapple with uncertainty of when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, the industry is at a standstill.
Canadians spend on average $31,000 on their wedding, according to a 2019 survey by The Knot, while a 2020 WeddingWire Report notes that couples hire a minimum of fifteen vendors and prepare one to two years in advance. From stationery and catering to florists, DJs and photographers, wedding professionals play a vital role in creating a memorable day for the happy couple and their closest friends and family. A wedding is also often the only event where this select group of people will all be in the same place.
It’s easy to trivialize a celebratory event in the middle of a crisis, but in recognizing the impact the coronavirus has had, and will continue to have, on the economy, it’s impossible to ignore how hard the $5 billion dollar wedding industry in Canada has been hit.
The financial and emotional losses have not only affected brides and grooms, but also the small businesses that rely on this peak season to stay afloat the rest of the year.
I spoke with Canadian women, from Nova Scotia to Nunavut, who share their experiences—not only the hardships, but the creative ways they’ve adapted in this challenging climate—of how COVID-19 has impacted their weddings or livelihood. The silver lining: love really does conquer (almost) all.
Interviews have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
“Coronavirus cancelled our wedding, so we exchanged vows alone by the lake”
“My wedding day is a day I have always dreamed of. I know everyone says that, but I mean it. I have been planning this day and envisioning all aspects of it for as long as I can remember. I was just over a week away from my dream becoming a reality when a global pandemic happened and for us, our only option was to postpone our wedding for the safety of our loved ones.
We decided to postpone before we were told we had to, which helped a bit in that we felt we had some control in the situation. It was a really hard decision and I was devastated but once I had run out of tears to cry, I was back in planning mode and trying to decide what we would do instead. Our plan B was an entire mini wedding with our immediate family at a Toronto restaurant. We’d have the ceremony, followed by an intimate dinner. But the restaurants were forced to close shortly after we cancelled our plan A wedding so we were back to the drawing board.
Financially, because our wedding date was planned for March 21, 2020, most of our vendors were already paid in full so we are out thousands of dollars for the time being, but it will be transferred to our new date. For vendors that are not able to make our new date, we unfortunately have lost those non-refundable deposits. Our guests were also on our mind right when we postponed and we felt guilty for the money that they may also lose. A lot of our guests were flying in from out of town, even a few from Europe. For most of them, hotels gave full refunds and airlines have issued credits so my hope is that it didn’t impact them too heavily.
We decided to make plan C just about us, in a place that we hoped would not be impacted—outside. We wrote some vows, got all dressed up, made some homemade wedding bands out of rope and ventured down to a little beach on Lake Ontario.
We exchanged vows and said ‘I Do’ before slipping our new rings onto each other’s fingers. Our friend captured the moment from a distance to show our families and the rest is history! We didn’t have an officiant present so we aren’t officially married but our vows were so real and raw and made me realize that’s all you really need. We are so close with our families and want them to be there to witness our official ceremony, whenever that day will come. I never in a million years dreamed of my ‘wedding day’ looking like this, but it was perfect.
Coincidentally, I’m also a wedding planner, and year two of my business is looking much different than anticipated. Almost all of my weddings for 2020 have been postponed into 2021. This will definitely have an impact on my bottom line, but having the unique perspective of experiencing what my couples are currently facing in postponing a day they have spent years planning, I’m heartbroken for them and my only goal is to ease their stress. All deposits are transferable to their new date and there is no fee to reschedule. Wedding and event vendors are being hit hard because of the intense event ban that is affecting so many businesses, big and small. I am fortunate to work with amazing couples and hope for a prosperous 2021 when all of this is (hopefully) behind us. It’s a hard time for everyone right now—all we can do is work with compassion and kindness and do the best we can.”
—Paige Cunningham, founder of Paige Caroline Weddings and Events, Hamilton, Ont.
“Our elopement from Nunavut was cancelled, but an even bigger surprise awaited”
“I’ve heard planning a wedding isn’t for the faint of heart. This has proven to be an understatement. I consider myself the imaginative and resourceful type, the one you would want by your side as you plan your wedding. Surprisingly, when it was my turn to tie the knot, I had a reaction that revealed itself as crippling anxiety. My partner and I come from large east-coast families so the guest list turned into a wild monster overnight and we had a really difficult time making edits we both agreed on. Logistically, it was also challenging trying to plan a wedding from Nunavut. After a long and agonizing battle, my partner and I agreed to elope.
We planned to exchange our vows and have a civil ceremony on March 20, 2020 in Old Montreal, just the two of us. Everything was in place, the boutique hotel, the lavish cheese plate and wine to be delivered, the intimate ceremony, topping it off with an indulgent dinner we would feast on while playing footsie under the table.
In the days leading up to our elopement, Iqaluit, Nunavut (where we live) announced a work-from-home transition. Our daycare closed, and both my partner and I were now working full-time from home with our year-and-a-half old daughter, Greta. I work as a project manager for the Nunavut Film Development Corporation and Michael works for the Government of Nunavut as a manager of public agencies.We made the difficult, but necessary, decision to cancel our dreamy elopement. That was tough. Selfishly, I still grieve that three-day weekend. I still mourn the outfit I had planned to wear; those Edie Sedgwick earrings, that baby blue floral shift dress. I grieve the incredibly rare opportunity I had to share three full days with the love of my life, alone, in our beloved favourite city, celebrating us.
The hotel in Montreal cancelled on us as the pandemic affected Quebec earlier than Nunavut.They shut down due to COVID-19 the week of March 16 and gave us a full refund. By that Friday, WestJet had cancelled its flights across Canada, Air Canada dramatically reduced its routes and the government of Nunavut urged residents to avoid unnecessary travel. We received a flight credit and cancelled the childcare we’d arranged for Greta.
The stream of emails that showered my inbox with kind words and support from friends and family has been overwhelming. In light of what is happening globally, we are very much the lucky ones. Our wedding can wait. COVID-19 has really put into perspective the importance of community, gathering, face-to-face interaction and the generosity and kindness of neighbours to help in hard times. The humanity in it all is quite moving.
In the meantime, while we wait for our postponed elopement next summer, and just to keep things interesting, we remain devoted to growing this COVID baby in my ever-growing belly to add to the big boom—surprise!”
—Corinne Dunphy, project manager, Iqaluit, Nunavut
“Our cut flower business has taken a crushing blow, forcing our Picton location to close”
“We are in the midst of something I could never have imagined and I was completely ill-prepared for. Most small businesses aren’t sitting on extra revenue, often we invest all money back into the business, whether it’s buying more inventory or expanding the business. In the summer of 2015 we opened a second location in Prince Edward County, in addition to our original Toronto shop, to accommodate the growing demand for weddings and events. It was a financial stretch creating more debt, but the current season was supposed to help pay off most of it. Cut to this unbelievable event and my business is suffering tremendously with a number of wedding postponements and event cancellations.
One of the things we did immediately was to close our retail locations; now we’re working on offering more products for online purchase. Our Toronto manager, Deanna, offers a limited number of weekly flower arrangements for delivery. She handles all operations from start to finish by herself, even though the demand is far greater. I can sleep at night because I believe I’m making decisions from an ethical place. Limiting the number of employees down to one until business resumes was challenging, but ensures Deanna’s health and safety. She controls all the variables and doesn’t have to worry about sharing space with someone who rode the subway that morning.
Deanna has poured her heart and soul into her designs because people are needing to spread the love more than ever. We believe flowers help bring comfort and support mental health.
Our Picton location is fully closed until further notice. May and June have been the hardest hit with the greatest number of cancellations and I anticipate more will come.
Another way we are pivoting and trying to recoup the loss is by growing more flowers at the farm in Sophiasburgh, Prince Edward County. We hope to supply future weddings with dahlias, zinnias, cosmos, scabiosa and grasses that have been sprouting under grow lights and will be planted out after the last frost in May.
I am lucky in comparison to others who have to close their businesses completely. My heart goes out to so many folks who are experiencing real pain, those who have lost a loved one or the people on the front lines. As a business owner, I’m not a stranger to unexpected hardships and I’ve learned to adapt but this is uncharted territory. I think it’s important to not let fear and anxiety govern the thought process, easier said than done, but for me I have to stay positive and I have to focus on the things I can control.
For me, COVID-19 is offering a major lesson that there are no guarantees and that’s going to naturally inform every decision I make moving forward. I never want to feel this vulnerable in business again. It’s also an opportunity to take inventory on what’s working and what’s not.”
—Alison Westlake, owner of Coriander Girl, Prince Edward County, Ont.
“My bachelorette was cancelled and we’re facing postponement of our east coast wedding”
“I’d been looking forward to my bachelorette in Charleston, South Carolina for the last nine months. Being in my thirties, and having a collection of friends across multiple provinces who are all getting married, buying homes, or having children, I was thrilled that ten ladies were able to book a long weekend off to fly down to Charleston for an epic celebration.
In early March, I thought coronavirus may affect our international flights the weekend of April 23, 2020, so we planned to switch to a domestic location in Montreal as a ‘back-up,’ but then everything changed quickly. By mid-March, Charleston and Montreal were out and I was social distancing at home with all non-essential businesses closed for the foreseeable future.
I felt all the emotions—shock, disbelief, heartbreak, anger, grief and even guilt. The world seemed to be falling apart by the minute and I was upset over a cancelled bachelorette. I felt guilty that this was upsetting me when people were sick, out of work and literally dying. In the end, I’ve accepted that it’s OK to feel all these feelings and that they are valid. I can both be sad for the loss of my own milestones and be sad for the world.
Now that we are more than a month into social distancing, we have to start considering postponing our July 18, 2020 wedding at White Point in Nova Scotia. For the first week of quarantine, I couldn’t even bear the thought of this. However, the unknown really perpetuates anxiety and, after a few breakdowns, my partner and I decided to be proactive and look into postponement options. Our vendors have all been amazing and offered to switch to any date they have available in 2020 or 2021 without penalty.
Having a plan and the support of our family and friends has made all the difference. I may end up with a bachelorette after the wedding or a Friday wedding a year later than expected but I know that everything will still be perfect in its own way. I have the most supportive partner I could ask for and this will be a great story for the kids someday.”
—Ellen Purves, pharmacist, Halifax, N.S.
“We’ve had to convert our wedding stationery business to Zoom consultations”
“The past few weeks have been a real whirlwind. All of a sudden, weddings that had been in the works for months have now been postponed for 2021 and the new clientele we usually expect this time of year has been slow to trickle in. To say it has impacted our business both in the way we function day to day, and the sales we anticipate seasonally, would be an understatement.
Luckily, with a little bit of additional prep work, we’ve found that video calls have quite successfully replaced our in-person consultations, allowing us to continue to meet with those clients who want to get the ball rolling on their wedding stationery. The silver lining for many clients who want to work on their wedding invitations is that the proofing process for our design work can now be done over email.
We’ve made efforts to inspire 2021 couples to get started on their stationery now, while everyone is at home on their computers. It’s actually an incredibly productive use of clients’ time—while the world feels like it has stopped—to develop their custom wedding invitation design. By the time updated dates and venues have been confirmed, we can plug any new details into the finished design, and send it to print immediately.
Unlike many other wedding vendors, we’re not necessarily a ‘date-specific’ reservation that needs to be made. We can take on an infinite number of clients on the same wedding date, since invitations are mailed out months in advance, and other ‘day-of’ stationery (such as menus, place cards and seating charts) are picked up by the client or planner the week of the wedding. With so many couples scrambling to renegotiate contracts and rebook vendors for new dates, the little piece of good news is that we’ll be ready and available for any new date that our clients need us for.
Like many other small businesses, we have newly advertised gift cards as a way of ‘reserving’ some design time with us, if it’s not needed immediately. We find it makes for a really beautiful gift for an engaged couple who has had to potentially forfeit deposits with other vendors in order to postpone their wedding date, and supports small business at the same time.
However, gift cards have not taken off nearly as much as our pre-stamped ‘Colour-in Quarantine’ postcards—one theme for kids, another for adults—to both raise funds for regionready.ca, a local hospital foundation, and inspire those staying at home to connect with their loved ones through the mail. As stationers, it’s an opportunity to keep both the art of letter writing, as well as our small business, relevant in these strange times. Truthfully, it’s been incredibly successful, and has opened us up to a new market beyond brides and grooms.
From a financial and logistical standpoint, we’ve chosen to close our brick and mortar shop until clients can access it again in person, but this decision allowed us to maintain our full staff and utilize Zoom for meetings and consultations.
We’ve also tried to promote other areas of our business while weddings are taking a hit. While we identify as a wedding stationery design studio, we are still, in essence, a design firm that can take on all kinds of design work from branding to digital assets. While 2020 weddings are on pause, we’re forced to come up with creative solutions to increase revenue, and keep the studio relevant—truthfully, it’s allowed us to expand the scope of our work and inspire our team to think beyond the status quo of what Paper & Poste has been for so long.”
—Lexi McKenna and Beckee Kavanagh, owners of Paper & Poste, Toronto, Ont.