In 1968, we had “the summer of love.”
In 2020, we had the summer without weddings. And the fall and winter, too, truth be told.
For more than 15 months, people in Massachusetts lived with strict restrictions on gatherings — outdoor and indoor — requirements on social distancing and, in effect, no live music.
The limits imposed as the state and the rest of the nation reeled under the coronavirus pandemic may well have saved lives. But for caterers, reception venues and the businesses that support them, they turned wedding bells into a death knell.
“We did one wedding last year,” said Shane Matlock, owner of The Burgundian restaurant on Park Street in Attleboro, whose food truck has been serving up treats at many events. “We did one in May,” he says, “and then everything was wiped off the board.”
Of course, for couples planning their weddings the impact was more personal.
Rebecca Erdos of Rehoboth told The Sun Chronicle last year that she and her fiancé, Peter Grendal, a Foxboro native, held off on postponing their June wedding for as long as they could, until friends and family started telling her they wouldn’t attend if the wedding was kept on the original date.
And then the couple themselves came down with the virus. “I was paranoid. What if I can still give it to people? I don’t want that,” Erdos said. “And I don’t want people to be afraid to hug me.” They gave in to fate and decided to wait.
Lakeview Pavilion in Foxboro suffered a devastating fire in 2014. It rebuilt and reopened more than a year later with a new outdoor venue. Last summer, the town’s conservation commission agreed to fast track a series of proposed improvements to the property so it could resume hosting weddings and other events “in the fall,” The Sun Chronicle reported at the time. The paper said the function hall hoped to reopen by September.
Michelle Ryder, Lakeview’s marketing manager, said the extensions of the state limits on gatherings, capacity restrictions and confusion about the various phases of reopening for businesses didn’t help matters at the 25,000-square-foot-venue.
“The most difficult part when answering questions, was that we learned about any news the governor was releasing the same time that the public was informed,” she said in an email to The Sun Chronicle. “During each reopening phase we did not receive guidance from the state immediately.
“It was difficult to keep telling couples that we did not have direct answers with regard to restrictions and mandates, as it is our job to guide them with their wedding plans.”
It was, she says, “truly a heartbreaking year for us because it was projected to be our busiest and most successful year to date.”
And during the height of the shutdown, vendors in this state also had to deal with the fact that neighboring states, including New Hampshire, were allowing larger gatherings and potentially poaching wedding parties from Massachusetts.
Ryder says that the staff at Lakeview tried to hold couples’ hands and reassure them they could indeed have the wedding of their dreams. “We did host a select few micro weddings for couples who truly wanted to celebrate their wedding day on their original date.”
That all changed within the last month. As vaccination rates climbed — after a shaky rollout — and cases of infections began to drop, the state and businesses started to see daylight at last.
On Memorial Day weekend, an executive order from Gov. Charlie Baker declared that people who were fully vaccinated would no longer be required to wear masks in most settings or practice social distancing. Organizers of large outdoor gatherings, along with restaurants and other businesses, could end capacity restrictions. On June 15, Massachusetts’ official state of emergency expired.
Making up for lost time
And along with Red Sox fans, beachgoers and restaurant patrons, couples planning weddings have been making up for lost time.
“Weddings, events, bridal showers, we are getting inundated with all sorts of requests from all over Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut,” Matlock says now of his food truck. “We are looking at this year as well as 2023,” he said. “It’s coming back full bore.”
At Lakeview, Ryder says, couples were thrilled when the restrictions were lifted, but “I also think many were weary as they did not want to be let down again. They were hopefully optimistic.”
The venue’s staff was “in absolute shock knowing that what the new way we adapted to performing weddings would return to normal. It was a learning curve. The phone and inquiries are returning back to what they were. I believe that couples were hesitant at first to plan a wedding during the uncertainty that our industry had been experiencing in 2020.”
Matlock says some couples are trying to pair their own big day with local events. He could easily do three weddings a weekend if he wanted to. Unfortunately, he says, “We can’t meet demand.” He’s getting emails from couples saying their food truck has canceled and now they are trying to find an alternative, he said. There is more demand than there is food truck supply.
Lakeview has not had to turn anyone away, Ryder says. “We learned to pivot how we operate just like every other venue during the pandemic.” Many clients were reluctant to visit Lakeview in person during the pandemic. So instead, they went with virtual tours and Zoom meetings.
Ryder said Lakeview averaged about 150 events prior to the pandemic and can host a couple of events at the same time. She says, “We are back and just as busy.” The venue recently hosted a wedding with 220 guests in its larger ballroom and 100 in the smaller one on the same day. “We forgot how much we loved being so busy,” she says.
For Erdos, the bride from Rehoboth who had to postpone her wedding from last June, the wait was worth it.
Among other things, it means her fiancé’s brother can fly in from California as originally planned to perform the ceremony. Most of the guests will be fully vaccinated (although about a score of invited guests won’t be coming due to COVID-19.) The couple also managed to save money to pay the wedding costs and the Five Bridge Inn in Rehoboth, their venue, came up with some add-ons they would not otherwise have had.
“I still get to have the wedding I always wanted and I’m glad I waited the full year instead of doing a quick wedding (at) town hall…” she wrote.
“I also believe everything happens for a reason — so I am hoping that’s this is what was meant to be,” she wrote in answer to a question via Facebook Messenger.
As it turns out, the new date is also bracketed by two meaningful days in her life. Her 32nd birthday is July 1 and Grendal’s father died a few years ago on the Fourth of July. “So I feel like it makes it like he will be there with us on our special day or think of it that way.”
They will be married July 2.