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Would-be brides and grooms across Connecticut scramble to reschedule weddings as coronavirus crisis throws plans into turmoil
Hartford Courant - 3/26/2020
Brittany Podolak and Niall Griffin planned to be married March 28, unaware of the profound changes that were to come. The ceremony was going to be at Our Lady of Grace in Stratford, followed by a reception at Testo’s in Bridgeport. The coronavirus pandemic has changed their plans.
The wedding wasn’t in peril at first, even with COVID-19 making slow but steady gains across the state and the nation. On March 12, Gov. Ned Lamont banned gatherings of 250 people or more, to stem the spread of the outbreak. Podolak and Griffin had planned a smaller wedding than that, with 110 confirmed guests.
Two days later, the United States extended its international travel ban to the British Isles. Griffin’s parents live in Waterford, Ireland, as do several other guests. Holding the wedding without Griffin’s parents was unthinkable.
“That’s when everything got very real for us, when we knew we possibly weren’t going to be able to have the wedding,” Podolak said. “They still could have gotten to the airport if they had rushed, but they would have to deal with panic and crowds. We didn’t want to put them through that.”
Polodak and Griffin postponed the wedding to a date not yet determined, hopefully in the fall.
On March 16, the ban on gatherings was made even stricter, no more than 50 people. Later, no more than 10 people.
Podolak and Griffin aren’t alone. Would-be brides and grooms across Connecticut are scrambling to reschedule their nuptials. Many have set new dates, crossing their fingers that the date will be post-pandemic and they won’t have to reschedule again. Others, like Polodak and Griffin, haven’t yet, because they are cautious or because the competition is stiff for rescheduled weddings.
And while many say they have been able to find new dates for their weddings, the prospect of lost deposits on everything from venues to invitations is a factor couples statewide are struggling with as the crisis continues.
Nina Musumeci is director of operations at the Bond Ballroom in Hartford, a popular reception venue. Musumeci is in the epicenter of the local scramble to reschedule weddings.
“I’ve been talking to brides all day, every single day. The phone has been ringing off the hook,” Musumeci said. “We honor deposits they have made and push it through to mutually agreed-upon dates. We’re not calling it a rain date. We’re calling it a corona date.
“We’re adjusting everyone to the reality, which is sad. The mother of one of our brides said her daughter had been planning her wedding since she was 6 years old. Her dress had a nine-foot train, a veil, a crown, the whole nine yards,” she said. “I try to stay positive for them but this is uncharted territory. The worst part is no one knows what’s going to happen.”
Valerie Garlick and Mark Cicero of New Haven were planning to get married on June 6 at Palace Theater in Waterbury, whose ornate Renaissance revival architecture makes it a popular wedding venue.
That wedding is off, too. "We didn’t call them. They called us. Our date got moved by the venue hopefully to the end of August,” said Garlick.
Garlick and Cicero had a reason for booking on June 2. Garlick teaches art at Capitol Community College in Hartford, and the semester would be over by then. Cicero’s sabbatical ends on July 1.
“For me, August is OK. It’s before Labor Day weekend. But he won’t be on sabbatical anymore. Hopefully, it’s still a reasonable time frame,” Garlick said.
Counting their blessings
Despite the inconvenience, brides and grooms are counting their blessings. Emily Lyon and Justin Radican of Hebron were going to get married on May 2 at the Wadsworth Atheneum. They’ve rescheduled it to Aug. 29.
Lyon is front of house manager at Republic at the Linden in Hartford. She said she is “used to being in chaos” because she works in the restaurant industry, but her wedding postponement was nonetheless “incredibly stressful.”
She feels grateful, though, that all of her vendors could reschedule to the new date. “I already paid for the DJ, the photo, the flowers,” she said.
Ellen Knowlton of Avon, who has postponed her May 17 wedding at the Old Well Tavern in Tarriffville, is a second-time-around bride. Her wedding to Scott Sebastian was going to be casual, and she sympathizes with those who have fancier plans.
“I don’t feel badly for us at all. It’ll happen. I feel bad for first-time brides and their families. It’s a lot bigger deal for them,” Knowlton said.
Jon Caruso and Suzanne Moutinho of Manchester set their date for April 4, the day after Moutinho’s birthday. Moutinho is a DJ on 102.9 The Whale who goes by the moniker Suzi Klonk. Caruso is a musician. On March 13, the wedding venue, Riverview in Simsbury, contacted them.
“We got the call that the wedding is still happening, but with restrictions, like no passed apps and employees wear gloves,” Caruso said. “Then in only 36 hours, we got another call.”
Their wedding now is scheduled for Nov. 14, coincidentally, the day before Caruso’s birthday.
“Although this whole cancellation crushed us, it is minuscule compared to the problems in the world right now,” Caruso said. “We just want everyone to be smart and safe.”
Refunds and losses
Weddings are planned months, even years in advance and often have price tags of tens of thousands of dollars. These brides and grooms said they have not yet lost any money with the cancellations, with a few exceptions involving stationery – save-the-date cards, programs, invitations, etc. – and party favors with dates on them. Vendors, they all said, have been sympathetic and understanding.
Podolak said she will reschedule at Testo’s when the venue and the vendors mutually agree on a date.
“It’s only a matter of their availability for the future date on if I will lose any deposits,” Podolak said. “My DJ was willing to return my deposit immediately. If the other vendors are not available for our rebook date, then we will have to discuss what happens with the deposit.”
Knowlton’s casual approach to her wedding at the Old Well Tavern paid off when it was canceled. “We had no deposit. … The manager was just going to close it down for us on a Sunday afternoon,” Knowlton said. “We didn’t even have a deposit on a band. I made the invitations, but we were just short of printing them. And, my friend was still working on making my dress.”
Caruso said he had paid deposits to some vendors. “Everyone has been so nice about re-booking with no penalties,” he said, adding that The Riverview was “very nice and helping us move the date.”
Lyon, too, said the Atheneum has rescheduled her without penalties. But since she works in the restaurant business, which caters weddings, Lyon knows not all brides were as fortunate. “A lot of women lost out on money because their vendors weren’t available for the day they rebooked. Some people aren’t getting refunds,” she said.
Garlick said the Palace is rebooking her without penalties. She had not yet hired caterers, a photographer or a florist. The band, made up of friends, still plans to perform on the rebook date, if it works out with its schedule of gigs. “They were unsure of what the future looked like for them, too,” Garlick said.
Audra Petrucelli, who books weddings at the Palace, responded that The Palace is not “a wedding factory," so moving a wedding date without penalties isn’t a primary financial burden.
“We are first and foremost a performing arts venue and the loss of income is primarily from having to postpone scheduled shows during what is normally our peak season at the theater,” Petrucelli said. “Besides shows, we also do dance competitions, graduations and fund raising events, which are all still up in the air.”
With regards to weddings, Petrucelli said, “If they were to all cancel and not reschedule the date, then it would have a financial impact [on the venue].”
Chris Brown and Evelyn Ruano of Goshen planned to have their wedding and reception March 21 at the Pond House at Elizabeth Park in West Hartford. On March 16, they were told the restaurant was closing.
They decided to get married on that day anyway, outdoors in the park. But it was a scramble. “We went back and forth on postponing it or trying to find somewhere else. We only had a few days to decide,” Brown said.
Their photographer, Kelsey Christian, helped them, posting on a Facebook bridal page that the couple was looking for an officiant.
Sarah Sullivan of Bristol, a justice of the peace, saw the post. “It just tore at my heartstrings,” Sullivan said.
The couple quickly picked up Evelyn’s dress and Chris’ tuxedo and found a hairdresser. At 5:15 p.m. on March 21, they said their vows in front of Sullivan, Christian and three invited guests. One FaceTimed the ceremony to Brown’s and Ruano’s parents. Another recorded it on her cellphone.
“It’s definitely not what we expected,” Brown said. “There were supposed to be 70 people there."
But he loved it. "Honestly, it was awesome. I think it was the best experience we could have had, to have the two of us in the moment.”
Sullivan added: “What was very sweet during the ceremony is that not only were the guests crying, so were the folks on FaceTime, and the bride and the groom. I was a little teary and so was the photographer. We were so happy we were able to pull something off.”
Brown said he and Ruano got all their deposits back. “It could have been a lot worse … But they were all good,” Brown said.
Christine Wertz and Joshua Carson of Quaker Hill may go ahead and get married anyway, too. Wertz had to cancel her bridal shower on March 22. Carson plans to cancel his bachelor party on April 4. Their big day is still scheduled for May 10 at Cold Spring Farm, a 300-acre working farm and outdoor wedding venue in Colchester.
“My fianc\u00e9e keeps saying, ‘I don’t care if it’s just you and me and the cows, we’re going to get married’,” she said. Since Wertz is still scheduled to be married on her original date, deposit refunds haven’t been discussed.
Wertz said she would be fine with a no-guest wedding among the bovines, although she is hopeful the virus dies down and the restrictions on gatherings are lifted by May 10 so she could have some guests.
Still, as her guests cancel plans to come, she is realistic. “We had 97 guests. That number is quickly dwindling, down to 78 already. Our elderly relatives don’t want to get sick. It’s too dangerous,” Wertz said.
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