CLEVELAND, Ohio – Typical pre-coronavirus weddings came with a guest list in the hundreds, and whopping price tags. But when the pandemic took hold, large scale weddings were threats to become super-spreader events — leaving couples in limbo.
“As soon as they realized the shutdown was going to last longer than a couple of weeks, we had couples in a panic, canceling their weddings altogether, or trying to reschedule for 2021,” said Erin Klouser, owner of Gather at the Lakes event venue in Portage Lakes.
Wedding venues throughout Northeast Ohio had to figure out how to make a dramatic shift to allow those couples who decided to proceed and tie the knot in 2020 say “I do.”
Allison and Addison Wellen had a traditional wedding planned for May 2020, with a guest list topping 300 people.
When Gov. Mike DeWine shut down businesses and mass gatherings in March for 90 days, the couple postponed nuptials until October, thinking that by fall, the virus would have run its course. But as the new date drew closer and closer, they “realized that wasn’t going to happen either.”
Because the couple didn’t want to delay being legally married any longer — and it was important the bride’s 92-year-old grandmother attend her ceremony — they decided to compromise on “the dream.”
“Thinking we would just have a nice dinner with immediate family and very few close friends and exchange vows, we started reaching out to restaurants and asking about private rooms,” she said. “That didn’t really feel like much of wedding, but that is what we thought we would end up with.
“A lot of (restaurants) were really not doing private events because of COVID, or only letting you have 10 people.”
Allison reached out to the Kimpton Schofield Hotel in downtown Cleveland, which responded with its newly-created micro wedding package for couples who still want a more traditional celebration of their love, but on a smaller scale.
Allison and Addison thought a micro wedding would be a good fit. “It was an entirely different vision than what we had planned, and so we wouldn’t feel like it was less than we hoped that it would be,” she said. They got married on Oct. 23 in front of 20 family members and friends in the Kimpton’s penthouse suite.
“It turns out we didn’t have to give up on the traditional wedding elements, it just looked a little bit different,” Allison said. “We did not really lose anything, or the elements we decided we would no longer have, was our personal choice.”
The impact on large weddings did not just take its toll on couples.
Churches, which were exempt from the state’s stay at home order, were asked to find other ways to worship. That shift would have to include weddings.
The Old Stone Church at Cleveland’s Public Square, known as one of the area’s preeminent religious wedding venues, took two months to consult guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, the state and the Cleveland Clinic, as well as a task force of congregation members who are scientifically trained. The result was temporarily modifying its wedding package — which normally touts a price tag of $4,000 — to allow a guest list of 15, and the cost lowered to $800.
“We understand that many couples don’t want to put their life on hold indefinitely, but still want to celebrate their marriages with those who mean the most to them,” said Interim Pastor Rev. Dr. Andrew McDonald. “But we still felt it imperative to provide a reasonable amount of safety with all the traditional trappings of a church wedding.”
McDonald understands the quandary couples face better than most. He, too, was scheduled to be married in a large church wedding in 2020. Instead, he and his wife, Tamara, eloped.
Some couples who booked their nuptials at the Old Stone Church in 2020 have put their plans on hold, while some chose to scale back their ceremony to still be married on their original date.
“Most of the couples we contacted were grateful for the option; most maintained their sense of humor as we realigned their ceremonies to meet the new guidelines, and everyone realized that this is just what we have to deal with for the time being,” said McDonald. “Those who wanted to go ahead with a small ceremony and still have their big, traditional, church wedding at a later date, we will work with them to make it happen at a later date.”
Klouser realized a new business model was essential for her wedding business to survive.
What she came up with are two all-inclusive, micro wedding packages that start at $1,200. Except for wedding attire and photography, Klouser’s micro wedding offerings allow couples to customize their ceremony – even add a small celebration with an upgraded package that starts at $2,100 – for a much more affordable price tag.
Couples may choose between an indoor or outdoor venue. They send photos of preferences such as colors, styles for wedding bouquets and music. The in-house venue staff then creates their vision as closely as possible, while still being able to work within the micro wedding budget.
Most of Klouser’s 2021 wedding bookings are now for micro weddings, or if a large wedding was already planned, couples are reimagining their weddings on a much smaller scale.
“Now that we know that this virus is not going away anytime soon, and that 2021 is not going to offer them a regular wedding either, a lot of people specifically want a micro wedding so they can still have the wedding they want, at the venue they want, but just in a much safer way,” she said. “Most couples are aware that this is how things are right now and they don’t want to wait to get married and they are good with it.”
As for the Wellens, Allison said there are no regrets.
“While there is still the hope that we can have the big reception party we planned — and celebrate our marriage with everyone we originally invited — we were able to spend the day with the people who mean the most to us and, actually, have a wedding that was more ‘us’ than what the larger, more traditional, weddings call for. It wasn’t the original dream, but it was a reimagined dream and it couldn’t have been any better.”