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COVID-19 pandemic crushes the tri-county wedding industry

By   /   Thursday, April 16th, 2020  /   Comments Off on COVID-19 pandemic crushes the tri-county wedding industry

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Hundreds of weddings in the Tri-Counties have been canceled or postponed since governmental orders forbade people from gathering in groups to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The ban cratered the industry on the Central Coast, which saw weekends in half of March, all of April and now parts of May become untenable.

“It’s devastating to our business,” said John Zaruka, founder of Wedgewood Weddings. “When are people going to be able to dance?”

Wedgewood Weddings has 45 venues spread throughout the country, including two in Ventura County, where the business was founded. It has had to cancel or postpone more than 1,000 weddings, including
weddings which were originally scheduled for the day after the ban on gatherings came down.

“We had people in town and we had to tell them we couldn’t do (the wedding),” Zaruka said.

To accommodate everyone whose plans were interrupted, Zaruka is reducing costs by 20 percent. But there’s trouble in trying to postpone weddings when a new date might also be in question.

“Now we have no idea what August is going to look like,” Zaruka said.

This is especially painful because Zaruka thought 2020 was going to be a great year for weddings. The strong economy and the symbolism of the year were coming together.

Now, Zaruka has had to lay off 800 of his 1,200 employees. He kept his sales and management team in place, but he had to let go of a lot of part time staff and chefs. With all of the events canceled, he’s got nothing for them to do, and the layoffs could hurt his ability to come out of the disaster when people are able to gather again.

“We don’t know if we’ll be able to get (everyone) back,” Zaruka said.

Cameron Ingalls, founder of The Wedding Standard, has seen a similar impact to his business. The Wedding Standard is a collection of wedding professionals in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, and Ingalls is a photographer.

The professionals specialize in various things that go into a wedding, including flowers, photography, catering, makeup and other services. When coronavirus started threatening the Central Coast, the members held a Zoom meeting and discussed how they were going to approach the situation — and how it was going to affect their clients.

“This is their dream wedding crashing before their eyes,” Ingalls said.

He estimates hundreds if not thousands of weddings in the area have been affected by the shutdown. Ingalls said the Central Coast sees 50-75 weddings on any given Saturday.

The members all put their availability into a spreadsheet to figure out when they could reschedule, and for some people, that meant passing business to a colleague if they were booked up.

Ingalls is reducing his fee for any business he’s getting from other members’ lack of availability, so that people who have already paid a deposit to someone else don’t feel even more of a financial sting, and he’s not the only one in The Wedding Standard who is doing that.

“There’s been a lot of generosity through this,” Ingalls said.

Ingalls also spoke about the toll the shutdown is having on the professionals themselves.

“We’re entrepreneurs doing what we love,” Ingalls said. “If we’re not able to do that, and we’re not able to provide for our families, it’s pretty debilitating.”

That being said, the wedding industry is perhaps a little better prepared to handle the shutdown than many others. Ingalls said the industry sees a slowdown from November to March, and so wedding professionals often have to have a few months’ of income saved to prepare for the lower volume in business.

The pandemic is stretching those savings toward when business should be recovering, but Ingalls is confident in the industry’s ability to recover.

He also thinks there’s a lot of lessons businesses can learn from the weeks and months of uncertainty.

“We should all come out of (this) with a better strategy and a better way of life,” Ingalls said.

• Contact Amber Hair at [email protected]

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About the author

Staff Writer at Pacific Coast Business Times, Inc.

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