Delayed weddings strain vendors

Northwest Arkansas wedding vendors say the backlog of weddings postponed by the pandemic means some couples can’t book their nuptials until late 2022 or even well into 2023.

“In 2022, I’ve kind of been blindsided by the number of weddings,” said event planner Stephanie Hoffman, owner of How Eventful in Rogers. “We already have more weddings planned in 2022 than in all of 2021.”

The uptick in business started around October, Hoffman said. But in the first year of the pandemic, she didn’t know if her business was going to survive.

“Absolutely, 2020 was rough in the beginning,” she said. “We had three cancellations, two postponements and a few “micro-weddings.'”

Business started to pick up again last year, she said.

“We weren’t as busy as we would have been in a normal year, but probably did three times as many weddings as in 2020,” Hoffman said. “So it was definitely a different climate.”

Now, though, venues, caterers, florists and other businesses have full calendars as couples who had postponed their big days are finally tying the knot.

But, Hoffman said, that means those just starting their wedding planning may find themselves booking a date “a good two years from now.”

At Tesori Bridal in Fayetteville, store manager Stacey Etzkorn said, business has stayed “pretty consistent” throughout the pandemic.

“As crazy as it sounds,” she said, given how much life for most people changed in 2020 and 2021, “in both of those years we were just as busy, if not busier, than in previous years,” Etzkorn said.

In the early months of 2020 when there was so much uncertainty, things may have slowed down a little, she said. The store used that time to implement safety measures such as mask wearing and limiting the number of people who could accompany a bride into the store.

“We were really blessed and shocked that brides were still buying, and we didn’t have to close,” Etzkorn said. However, “brides were still getting married and still wanting to shop.”

Whether planning for a 200-guest ceremony or a micro-wedding, “we still need a dress,” she said.

Brides who are shopping now, though, are shopping for weddings in late 2022 or into 2023, Etzkorn said.

That’s because while people were planning weddings in 2020 and 2021, she said, “2020 brides were pushed up to 2021, so people planning to get married in 2021 were pushed to 2022. So current brides are getting pushed further out into 2023.”

Robbin Turner, owner of Cakes by Robbin, said business for her is leveling off after two challenging years.

“It was an administrative nightmare at the time,” she said, “because couples were having to coordinate with all the vendors. Like maybe the venue was available, but the caterer or wedding coordinator were not. That was really hard.”

And Turner said last year was probably her worst because she didn’t want to disappoint her brides and tried hard to accommodate them.

“I’m a small bakery, and I’m usually doing one or two wedding cakes a week,” said Turner, who operates her business from her Bentonville home.

“But when I was trying to work with couples who had postponed their weddings a year or two out, that’s where I was doing three or four wedding cakes a week, which is a bit out of my comfort zone,” Turner said.

“To me, things are back to normal, and it’s all new business now,” Turner said.

Industry research firm The Wedding Report Inc., said in a 2021 report — the most recent available — that it expected 1.93 million weddings in the U.S. that year; 2.47 million this year; and 2.24 million in 2023.

“After 2023, things should start to normalize, and we will get back to [a] pre-pandemic number of weddings,” the firm said.

Somewhat at odds with that report, research firm Statista said 2.02 million weddings took place in the U.S. in 2019.

Even with the vaccine available, couples have concerns about the safety of their relatives and guests, Hoffman said. At the same time, there’s a renewed focus on time with family. These have led to some new trends Hoffman is seeing this year.

For one, outdoor venues have become more popular, “even given the uncertainties of the weather,” Hoffman said. Those that provide indoor and outdoor space are also sought after, she said.

And if couples run into long booking times, they can shorten the wait by thinking creatively, Hoffman said.

Besides more traditional wedding venues, she said, couples are choosing sites such as campgrounds. She mentioned that one of these, Beaver Lake Hideaway, has accommodations ranging from RV sites and sleeping cottages to “full-service” cabins.

Hoffman said the Beaver Lake campground is also putting in some “glamping” tents.

Such outdoor, out-of-the-way places allow “more space to spread out and more time with family,” she said. They combine what Hoffman calls the “mini-destination” wedding with special family time, which people have come to value more because of the pandemic.

With these trends, “we have so many unique options right now, more than we’ve ever had,” Hoffman said. “We are still planning weddings in six months or less all day long.”