Maine's pandemic wedding scene is booming and 2022 will be bigger

·4 min read

Sep. 13—The COVID-19 pandemic intensified normal wedding stress. Ask Rachel Freid of Portland, who scrambled this summer after a caterer and coordinator canceled on her Oct. 9 wedding, citing too much work and too few workers.

Maine's wedding industry, which contributed almost $1 billion to the economy in 2017, saw a strong bounceback this summer after pandemic travel and capacity limitations last year caused a slew of cancellations and postponements. Many Maine wedding planners and event venues are already seeing reservations fill up for next year, which is expected to set the U.S. record for the most weddings in 40 years with nearly 2.5 million ceremonies, according to market research firm The Wedding Report .

"Next year is basically three years pushed into one," said Lisa Sturgeon, a wedding planner who runs Getting Married in Maine, who is almost fully booked for next year and is already talking to clients about 2023 weddings.

The last-minute changes for Freid, who hired Sturgeon as her new planner, are not unusual as couples and vendors navigate the pandemic. Weddings originally set for 2020 were pushed into this year and next, overloading planners, caterers, disc jockeys, florists, photographers, venues and others with requests. Staff is hard to find and some businesses did not survive the pandemic. Scaled-back weddings mean less money for vendors.

Freid said the rush for new vendors and rescheduling existing ones was stressful, but even more were the letdown of her expectations.

"I didn't want to let go of what I had envisioned," she said.

So far this year, the flood of wedding cancellations and postponements that marked 2020 haven't recurred despite the spread of the delta variant, with more couples than ever marrying. The number of weddings in Maine rose 35 percent to 8,902 ceremonies this year over 2020, when pandemic restrictions caused a 67 percent decline in weddings. Close to 11,000 weddings are projected next year in the state, according to The Wedding Report. Couples spend an average of $24,300 on their wedding.

The backlog is rippling through the industry. Jim McCarthy, owner of Delicious Thymes Catering & Personal Chef Services in Portland, said he's turning down up to five inquiries a day for catering weddings and other events. Paula Cano, owner of A Family Affair in North Yarmouth, said her staff and vendors are working overtime and exhausted with planning services completely booked through 2022.

"That's unheard of for me," Cano said.

Vendors and couples can lose thousands of dollars in business and fees when contracts are canceled or extended, and they may not be able to find replacement vendors for their desired wedding date. Fausto Pifferrer, co-founder of Blue Elephant Catering in Saco, said he lost about $375,000 in revenue, service fees and food spoilage from cancellations and postponements last year. He often has to take on added losses from increased costs for goods and workers when weddings are postponed for a year or two. He said one wedding cancellation affects a whole group of vendors.

"It's like a pebble in a pond," Pifferrer said. "Everyone feeds off of that wedding."

Pandemic mandates forced a lot of changes last year, with gatherings of 250 or more people postponed by the governor last March along with added travel restrictions. After that several different capacity limits went into effect last year allowing 50 guests, then 10, then 50 and 100 before being lifted altogether in May.

Capacity limits were too much for some couples. "One bride told me 'I'm done,'" Billie Cooke, manager of Agora Grand Event Center in Lewiston, said. Shortened guest lists angered left-out friends and family. As the delays stretched out, some couples even broke up, Cooke said.

"Losing a non-refundable deposit is cheaper than a divorce," Cooke said.

Noting pandemic changes, Cooke switched to three-tier pricing: elopement with 10 guests, intimate for up to 50 and wedding for more than 50. She offered those who settled for smaller weddings an opportunity to come back on a second day for a larger event.

For Summer Allen, who owns Valentine Footwear in Bangor, planning a small wedding for September was no imposition. She and her partner, Jeff, who are in their 40s, whittled down the guest list to 73, sent out an engagement card without the usual "save the date" information and planned to have masks for guests that match navy-and-floral decor.

"I'm OK with the reality of it," she said. "Life is going to go on."

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