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Wedding bells abound after pandemic disruption

Angela and Derrik Martin wave to their family and friends at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort in Lake Placid at the end of their wedding officiation in September 2020. (Provided photo — Due West Photography)

Angela and Derrik Martin had everything planned out.

After five years of sharing their lives together, the Lake Placid couple planned to get married in Lake Placid at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort on July 18, 2020.

The pandemic changed that. Like many other couples who planned to be married when the coronavirus pandemic hit — prompting industry-wide shutdowns, restrictions on large gatherings and advisories against travel — the Martins had to decide what their wedding ceremony would look like in light of the public health crisis.

“The guest list went from like 120 to 50. We ended up only being able to invite inside our immediate family and the bridal party,” Angela said.

Despite limitations on their guest list, the couples’ family friends discovered a loophole: They could still watch the wedding ceremony from their room balconies.

“When you book a wedding with the Golden Arrow, you end up getting all the rooms that surround the reception hall inside,” Angela said. “When we did our ceremony, all of those hotel rooms where all of our family friends were staying were overlooking it so they all still got dressed up and were able to watch the ceremony.”

They got married on Sept. 5, 2020. On the day of the ceremony, it started raining. Angela said that they were willing to wait a few more minutes. After the wait, a rainbow appeared.

“We both say it all the time,” said Angela. “We liked it a lot more than what we probably would have had if we had had the full wedding. We talked to everybody. It was very personal. It was special. And it’s something we’re ever going to forget.”

New landscape

The wedding industry in the Tri-Lakes region was among many industries that suffered losses of staff and mass-cancellations amid the coronavirus pandemic. Many people working in the industry — whose schedules are usually set far in advance — were suddenly faced with empty or rapidly-shifting calendars as couples were faced with the decision of moving their ceremonies online, putting off their wedding indefinitely or canceling their ceremonies altogether, and as policies designed to mitigate the spread of the virus fluctuated. Though many pandemic-related restrictions have long since been lifted, some impacts of the pandemic are lingering.

Wedding vendors and representatives for wedding venues are describing something of a “boom” right now, with many ceremonies postponed in 2020 and 2021 moving forward now.

Sylvia’s owner since 1998, Sylvia Cecunjanin, feels the same rollover effects from the past two years immensely. In a pre-pandemic year, she would tailor and alter up to 50 wedding dresses a year. As of this month, she said she is already booked out to October with 28 requests.

“We were seeing this trend of a lot smaller weddings happening, even through last year,” said wedding planner Katy Hosler. “Things were very comfortable, 100-120 guests, even once the restrictions were lifted. This year is like 150-175. We have a couple for next year that are 300.”

Mary Dougherty of Mary Dougherty Photography, based in Saranac Lake, said she thinks some couples are feeling more free to make their wedding what they want it to be.

“I think as a whole, I see people are a little bit more open to doing what they want,” she said. “For whatever reason, there’s a little more permission to make that choice that maybe they felt pressured into not making.”

The Hotel Saranac, which has been hosting weddings since it was built in 1927, shut down services for two months during the height of the pandemic.

“(In) 2020 nearly every wedding canceled because of the pandemic,” said Jacob Kipping, Hotel Saranac’s general manager since May 2018. “We refunded a fair number and then repositioned a good amount toward future dates. (In) 2021 we started having them again as the world started to open up but it was still restrictive on numbers and these things were just so up in the air.”

This year, the Hotel Saranac will be the venue for 28 weddings. Some of those weddings may very well be a ceremony — Myra Rondeau, the director of sales at Hotel Saranac, said that some of the couples may already be married.

Saranac Lakers Jess Collier and Andy Simchik got legally married in 2020 without a ceremony.

The couple was planning to have their wedding ceremony on June 20, 2020, but after rescheduling their planned ceremony multiple times, they opted to postpone it altogether.

“For me it was kind of important to do the legal thing the day we’d planned to do the big wedding because we’d never lived through a pandemic before,” said Collier. “We already shared a house and everything. I wanted to make sure we were already legally tied.”

In January of 2021, the couple didn’t know what was to come of the vaccines that had just been released to the public. Collier said that at the time, it seemed the vaccine dissemination progress would be slow.

The couple eventually had their wedding ceremony on May 28 of this year.

“It (postponing) made everything more enjoyable and lax when we were finally able to have it and not force people to wear masks at our wedding or regulate themselves in ways that we don’t want to police during our own wedding,” Simchik added.

Operational changes

The pandemic impacted not only couples, but the companies they relied upon to make their wedding happen. Service providers such as photographers, wedding planners, venue hosts, florists and caterers were all forced to change how they operated.

Jordan Craig, founder of Jordan Craig Video & Photo, which is now relocating from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake, was one of the photographers at the Martins’ wedding.

For Craig, the coronavirus pandemic became what he described as a “logistics” issue when it came to working with and getting to know couples. He estimated that around a third of the couples he was working with postponed their weddings during the 2020 summer season.

All service providers needed to keep themselves updated in order to adjust their business structure in accordance with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and local guidelines. Craig said that he was attending webinars through the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and learning as much as he could online to keep his business within the necessary policies.

Hosler, a wedding planner since 2005 and founder of VanBee & Co., experienced a different kind of shift. Rather than lose clientele during the 2020-2021 season, she said that most couples opted to have a smaller wedding.

“It wasn’t less work. It was just as much work and sometimes more because of all the regulation-changing,” she said. “People needed a lot more support. Couples, we were finding, needed a lot more support in just managing the state and managing what their venues’ regulations were.”

“Our job is to plan. Having the changes in regulations constantly made it very difficult to be able to stick to a plan,” she added. “There was a learning lesson there for everyone that you really just have to be able to go with the flow.”

Hosler said that some couples married in secret with only the wedding planners in the know. One of the main drivers behind that was the need for insurance coverage or better insurance in general. Hosler also said that some people from New York City ventured up to the Adirondacks to hold their wedding ceremonies because they felt safer.

Mimi Wacholder, a Lake Placid-based wedding planner and founder of Juniper Events, experienced a significant drop during the 2020-21 season.

“All my 2020 events were canceled,” Wacholder said. “Some of my clients went ahead and got married with a very small 10 person family party but none of my planned events took place.”

She said that it never would have crossed her mind to have the need for a pandemic clause in the contract she establishes with clients but now, it is standard.

After COVID-19 vaccines became available, one factor that both Hosler and Wacholder said to be a challenge during the planning process was the task of ensuring whether guests and/or service providers were vaccinated or not, depending on what requirements couples wanted for their wedding.

“The other thing that seems indirect, but is a direct impact from the pandemic, is the cost of goods have gone up. Things like catering services and all those transportation services, everything has had a rate increase,” Wacholder said.

One of the reasons for this, she added, is because of the lack of staffing among various catering businesses.

Solitude Catering, for instance, paused their services due to a staffing shortage and an increase in the cost of goods. They have now permanently halted catering to large events, said co-owner Jonathan Gravatt, and plan to open a restaurant in Lake Placid.

Words of advice

Planning a wedding can involve efforts from a variety of resources and organizations. Here are some of the things that couples and providers have learned throughout the pandemic: Multiple vendors, including Hosler, said to book a venue early. Some couples did plan their 2020 and 2021 weddings ahead of time, but current obstacles could be different than some would have been prior to the pandemic.

For instance, venues in the Tri-Lakes areas, such as Crowne Plaza Lake Placid, are no longer hosting weddings, according to Kipping and Rondeau.

“You just gotta be flexible. You could plan something to the tee and you just have to understand that the day of, you just got to go with the flow and enjoy every second of it,” said Angela Martin.

Many service providers said the same about flexibility, which does not necessarily mean couples need to sacrifice their dreams.

“Don’t sacrifice on your vision, especially when wading through the pandemic to get married. There is flexibility when planning a wedding but don’t sacrifice on things that are so important to you,” said Rondeau.

Another piece of advice given specifically by wedding planners Hosler and Wacholder was to plan everything all in one location.

“My recommendation is to go with a venue where everything happens in one place, where they have the liability and things like that because when you start with a tented wedding and a private home, the concerns of just having so many moving parts make the planning process obviously much more complicated and much less dependable,” said Wacholder.

Hosler said that people presume that backyard weddings are less expensive than a venue-held wedding. However, they can be just as if not more expensive because of everything — vendors, reception supplies (such as cups and plates), decorations and vaccination confirmations.