After a year of planning, matrimony for Kristin Bernhard and Patrick Kellow was only two weeks away.
Their families and friends, from Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Chicago and elsewhere, intended to meet at the Sardis United Methodist Church in Buckhead. Afterward, 70 guests would toast the new couple with tapas and champagne at Buckhead’s Iberian Pig.
Kristin had the date, March 28, 2020, engraved on the interior of her ring; Patrick had it embroidered inside his custom wedding suit. Plane tickets were bought, a photographer and florist reserved.
Then, two weeks before the big day, it fell apart. “We had to undo a whole year’s work in a couple of hours,” said Bernhard, 33, a senior vice president at a non-profit advocacy group for early childhood education.
The coronavirus and COVID-19 have upended our lives, crushed the stock market, and claimed thousands of victims.
But along with its most serious damages, the global pandemic has also really messed up the wedding season.
Having a wedding canceled or postponed may be minimized as a First World problem. But these brides (and grooms) must not only adjust to working at home, perhaps losing their jobs, maybe seeing their parents sicken, but also must watch the elaborate plans for what would have been a highlight of their young lives, crash and burn.
After coordinating with a dozen different vendors, and sinking their own money into deposits, invitations, makeup tryouts and plane tickets, they must call the whole thing off, without any confidence that a future date will be feasible. It sucks dry a tributary of happiness in what ought to be a joyous spring.
“The thought of having to re-plan some of this is a little nauseating,” said Atlanta native Jillian Clarke, who was to tie the knot with her fiancée John Skubina on May 8 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Marietta. The reception, with 140 guests, was going to take place at Two Birds Taphouse on the square in Marietta, where they’d reserved the whole restaurant.
“I guess if we did it once before, we could do it again,” said a resigned Clarke, who was quietly considering a quickie wedding instead. “If Vegas was open, we would go to Vegas.”
She sought answers — and commiseration — at the Facebook group Four Weddings and a Virus, which has attracted 3,000 members in the last two weeks. The site allows prospective brides to share suggestions about salvaging the wreckage of a 2020 nuptial.
Vendors are also struggling. The wedding industry generated about $72 billion in 2016, according to market researchers IBISWorld, but some of that will be lost in 2020.
EastCoast Entertainment coordinates musicians for non-ticketed events (like wedding receptions and corporate parties) from Texas to New York, and stages thousands of events each year. The lost gigs this season represents “millions of dollars,” said Atlanta-based senior partner Rick Stowe.
“The hard thing to comprehend is: There’s not an end in sight,” said Stowe. “There are a lot of broken hearts, a lot of tears, a lot of frustration.”
Atlanta harpist Lisa Handman said three of her wedding gigs have been canceled, and one has been postponed, plus her teaching income has been cut. (She gives all her lessons on FaceTime now.) “We’re on lockdown mode,” she said last week. “If I have to, I’ll go into my savings.”
A wedding is just the right sort of event to spread a virus, with people traveling from all over to attend, with elderly relatives attending, with dancing and other physical contact.
“I’m Latin,” said Yarit Sanchez. “We’re about hugging and kissing and all that.” After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned against gatherings of 50 or more, Sanchez and her fiancée, Sam Clark, reconsidered. She had relatives flying in from Colombia, South America, and a sister on chemotherapy.
“I’m sad and everything, but there’s no way to control that contagion,” she said.
Weddings aren’t the only events that draw older family members together from far and near.
Anne Barge Clegg planned a March 19 funeral service for her late husband Terry Clegg, who died Feb. 9. Friends and family were set to fly in from around the country. “We had a beautiful celebration of life planned, with music and everything,” said Clegg.
But that had to be called off. “It will happen again. It’s not gone, it’s just postponed,” said the widow, an Atlanta fashion designer. “I’ve got a very positive attitude about it. We’ve all got to do our part to not let (the coronavirus) spread.”
Postponing these events, especially weddings, will be problematic. Many brides are trying to shift their weddings into the last half of the year, but at the popular wedding venues, many of those dates are already booked.
And some of these couples are ready to stop being engaged and to start being married.
“We’ve been engaged since 2017,” said Jillian Clarke, 27, who moved from Atlanta to Omaha, Nebraska, last year with her betrothed. She’s growing restless.
Abby Barnes, who moved from Atlanta to Portland, Oregon, a few years ago, looks at the delay philosophically: “We’re ready to be married, but what’s a few more months compared to our whole lives?”
On the other hand, she said, she might not mind a small-scale service performed by an unorthodox justice of the peace. “I’ve been pushing for an Elvis impersonator,” she said. “That temptation is very strong for me.”
Kristin Bernhard and Patrick Kellow couldn’t wait. They’d been living together in Chicago for about a year. They eloped on March 20 at noon. They were just under the wire; at 3 p.m. that day the governor issued a “shelter in place” directive for all of Illinois.
On the way home, they celebrated with a Portillo’s hot dog.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.