Upper Valley wedding businesses scramble with big bounce after tough 2020

If the past year has been a nightmare for the wedding world, this year is shaping up to be more of a fairy tale.

After suffering a drastic slowdown in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, weddings – and the businesses that host them – have come back in force.

And that’s both good and bad.

While everyone, including caterers and tent companies, event venues, florists, photographers, and even port-a-pot vendors all report that they get a flood of booking requests, the demand for the pending nuptials is so great that the vendors say they can’t take on any other business.

“We started turning down products in June,” said Brendon Blood, owner of Blood’s Catering and Party Rentals in White River Junction. “We have a big red banner on our website saying we’re full, but we still get two to three calls a day. “

The Upper Valley is a popular destination for weddings due to its rural beauty and venues which include luxury resorts, country inns and farmhouses landscaped with renovated post and beam barns, and the wedding season of summer to fall plays a vital role in the local economy. But those who depend on the events industry have seen business slow as the pandemic has prevented large groups of people from coming together.

“2019 was our busiest year ever and then 2020 was next to nothing,” said Whitney Battis, who, along with her husband, Brent Battis, operates B&W Catering Co. in Perkinsville. “This year we have a wedding every weekend until October.”

One of the main reasons for the boom cycle is that weddings canceled last year have been rescheduled for this year, in addition to the regular schedule of weddings slated for 2021. The postponement pushes bookings to 2022 and even to beyond, said wedding planners.

“We’re almost full for next year and people are already booking for 2023 at this point,” said Emma Behrens, wedding coordinator at the Quechee Inn at Marshland Farm in Quechee. The hostel has booked 17 weddings this season compared to eight last year and 15 the year before.

“It was one every weekend, sometimes two a weekend,” Behrens said.

A spot check of local municipal clerks’ offices for marriage licensing confirms the jump in couples getting married this summer.

In Woodstock, where the Woodstock Inn & Resort is a popular destination for wedding ceremonies, the number of marriage licenses issued since the spring is 27, with 11 more pending or awaiting return for official registration, this which brings the total to nearly 40 so far in 2021 against 27 for the whole of 2020.

Lebanon issued 61 marriage licenses between May 1 and September 21, up from 53 for the same period last year, and Hanover has issued 26 marriage licenses since May 1, which Hanover Deputy Registrar Donna Stender , described as “rather average”.

And in Hartford, 52 marriage licenses have been issued so far this year, and 15 more are awaiting surrender, up from 61 for all of 2020 and 124 for all of 2019, the last year before. pandemic.

As a barometer of marital activity, Hartford, due to the fact that it is a busy city on the border and at the intersection of highways 89 and 91, could be considered the Las Vegas of the Upper Valley.

“We are the first city that people from out of state come to get their marriage licenses, and not all of the licenses issued have happened in the city of Hartford,” Hartford Deputy Clerk said, Sherry West.

And for other branches of the wedding industry, such as florists, business is booming.

“Our wedding business is three times what it normally is and remains strong through the fall,” said florist Michael Reed, owner of Roberts Flowers of Hanover. “We’ve had at least two weddings most weekends, and people are already booking for next summer, which is unusual for us.”

One difference, however, is that weddings are getting smaller – although that doesn’t mean they’re small, wedding planners have said.

“The average is 125 to 150 guests. We don’t get to see parties of 175-200 guests so much, ”said Tami Dowd, owner of Dowd’s Country Inn in Lyme.

For Dowd, the challenge this year and beyond isn’t a lack of business – “a lot of our weekends are gone for 2022, and we already have 10 weddings booked for 2023,” she said. – but the inability to find enough workers to organize an event that requires 15 people – cooks, waiters, bartenders – for a wedding party of 130 guests.

This forced Dowd to make some tough calls.

“We had to close Latham House (the hostel restaurant) this weekend and next because we need staff for the weddings,” she explained. “We move people and everyone gets involved. “

Photographer Quechee Lyndsie Lord said the jam at weddings this summer prompts guests to grab any available date in order to bring together all the pieces – accommodation, caterer, photographer, florist, officiant – involved in arranging the event. a marriage.

Saturday is the traditional wedding day, but Lord said this summer she also photographed weekday weddings. “A lot of people ended up doing weddings on Wednesdays and Fridays. I had a wedding on Tuesday. It’s hard to find a date where everyone is available, ”she said.

The 37 weddings Lord is due to do this year – she divides her business between New England and Tennessee – “is certainly the busiest year I’ve ever had.”

The pandemic has led more and more couples to hold their weddings outdoors, demanding services such as tent companies and port-a-potty providers.

Danielle Allard, who along with her husband, Tyler Allard, runs the Allard portable restroom in Charlestown, said they had “at least ‘had 40 weddings this year” and seven more to come. ” They already have 10 marriages on their books for 2022.

“We are way beyond what we did in 2019,” she said.

Allard, however, admitted that their 2021 wedding total was slightly inflated by a special event: her and her husband’s wedding in Walpole, NH on September 4 (which, like many of their clients’ ceremonies, was postponed d last October).

Finding a white portable toilet was no problem, of course.

“We shared our wedding date with our clients,” she said.

John Lippman can be contacted at [email protected]

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