The invitations were sent, the travel plans made. Amanda Gustafson and Jimmy Kerner were ready to marry Sunday, April 5, in front of about 130 guests.
Then the new coronavirus came to the United States. County officials in Boise, following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, canceled 21 events at Ada County’s Barber Park Event Center, including 15 weddings.
After “days of utter chaos,” Jimmy said, the couple decided to hold a tiny ceremony with a big reception a year later. Then, on March 25, Idaho Gov. Brad Little ordered Idahoans to stay at home for all nonessential business through April 15. The couple’s pastor called, telling Amanda, 24, that Little’s order meant their wedding couldn’t go on as planned.
“Why don’t we just get married now?” Jimmy, 22, joked. Amanda said no. It was a Wednesday, 3 in the afternoon, and she was wearing pajamas.
Across the country, engaged couples are all battling the same problem: Can you reschedule the happiest — and often the most expensive — day of your life?
They may have little choice. Most event-related businesses are considered nonessential in the pandemic and have closed.
For awhile, it appeared that couples wouldn’t even be able to obtain marriage licenses.
On the day of the state stay-at-home order, the Ada County Clerk’s office stayed open until 7 p.m. to make sure all couples with weddings scheduled between then and May 31 would be able to get their licenses. It seemed then that it would be nearly impossible to get a license. Neighboring Canyon County stopped issuing marriage licenses to out-of-county residents.
“We had unprecedented numbers,” Chelsea Carattini, spokeswoman for the clerk’s office, told the Statesman in a phone interview. “We processed 107 licenses, up from 61 the day prior. The previous record was 40, when we had same-sex marriage become legal in Idaho.”
The clerk’s office has since started taking appointments for people who need marriage licenses.
SMALL BUSINESSES CAN BE HURT BY RESCHEDULING
Anna McDaniel, a wedding and event planner who owns Fancy That Idaho and the president of Idaho Event Professionals, said she and other event planners have received calls from brides and grooms looking to cancel or postpone.
When a couple has to reschedule their wedding, it can be a hassle financially and emotionally. Attendees may not be able to come on a different date, or they may have to hire a new vendor and risk losing their deposit.
Even couples with wedding insurance policies, which often cover emergencies or reimburse couples in situations in which a certain number of attendees can’t go to the wedding, may not find a rescheduling fully covered. Amid the pandemic, some companies have stopped issuing policies altogether.
A new date can also be a headache for vendors, many of whom are small business owners. Florists, for instance, may have a difficult time getting specific flowers during a different time of year, while bakers may find themselves having to get ingredients that are in short supply.
“A lot of vendors rely on and live off of those retainers and deposits,” McDaniel said. “Early on, that’s what is paying their bills. When a bride cancels, that pulls money out of the vendors’ pockets.”
McDaniel said that in situations like these, many vendors are willing to work with couples. Some vendors may have less flexibility depending on how far out they are booked. The specific contract a vendor has may make it difficult to postpone an event or may require a change in prices based on seasonal availability.
But McDaniel said calling a vendor and explaining the situation is a good first step, especially as vendors are try to stay afloat and protect their reviews.
She said couples willing to change their locations may have an easier time, as Idaho is “lacking venues.” Nontraditional days may also become more popular, she said, as couples find it is easier to schedule a new wedding on Sundays or during the week.
There are also companies that are working to make it easier to change dates, including several websites now offering “change the date” cards — a twist on traditional “save the date” cards to instead let guests know a wedding has been postponed.
DRESS SHOP IS NONESSENTIAL BUSINESS, CLOSES
Around the time Little issued the stay-at-home order, Amanda’s dress shop called. Her gown was done, and she was told she had to pick it up that day. The store was nonessential and would be closing its doors.
She’d have a dress, and she’d have her fiance. They had the decorations already for the original date, and she started cleaning the house earlier in the day. It wouldn’t be such a stretch to have a wedding. Amanda called her fiance back.
“Why don’t we just do it?” she asked him. “Let’s get married.”
Her mother picked up her dress, along with a cake and some flowers. Jimmy and Amanda called everyone they knew to tell them about the new event, including the pastor.
Some were surprised. Others asked how they could help.
By 4 p.m., those closest to the couple started showing up at their Nampa home. A family friend did Amanda’s hair and makeup; her mother and aunt started decorating the house.
“I didn’t have time to stress about the small details anymore,” Amanda said. “Anything that mattered just kind of fell into place.”
Everyone cleaned, organized food, decorated. The wedding shrank from 130 attendees to about 10. The professional photographer was replaced by an aunt who did amateur photography. The food changed from fingers foods and pasta salad to pizza.
At that point, none of it mattered to Amanda and Jimmy. By 8 p.m., as the sun finished setting, they were married.
“It was just our family there, but it shows we have an army of people that love us,” Amanda said.
A year from now, on what was once supposed to be their wedding anniversary, the Kerners say they will have a big party. They’ve kept their contracts with their vendors.
“Once all this blows over, we’ll be able to do something big with the rest of our family and friends,” Jimmy said. It’s hard to estimate when it will be possible to have big gatherings again, but the Kerners said a year out seemed like a good time to plan for.
At Barber Park, event coordinators are offering refunds or helping to reschedule whenever possible, said Steve Koberg, director of Ada County Parks & Waterways.
“It’s a tough time for everybody,” he said. “We feel badly about this, but I think the big picture is so much more important right now.”
The newly married Kerners say they understand.
“I’m not sure I would have picked to do it this way,” Amanda said, “but it ended up being something great.”
Photo Courtesy: Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman