Coronavirus shutdown dashes wedding plans — and a lucrative seasonal business

Loveland Ski Area hosted its 29th annual Mountain Matrimony mass wedding Feb. 14. The annual event was among the last weddings that took place before the coronavirus shutdown, which is putting spring and summer weddings in jeopardy.
Liz Copan /

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Petal and Bean owner Kayle Burns’ name.

DILLON — Leah Sanders has been planning a June wedding in Breckenridge since August, but it’s up in the air whether it will be able to go on as planned. Many couples are now weighing their options to postpone, have a very small ceremony with a large celebration later or have a virtual wedding. 

Sanders said she is holding out for her June 14 wedding of about 150 people, but if the shutdown continues and the wedding cannot go on as planned, she and her fiance plan to get a marriage certificate and hold a private ceremony before their baby arrives in the fall and then schedule a larger celebration when it is safe. 

“A week before Summit County went into shutdown mode, we found out that we were pregnant,” Sanders said. “For us, it’s important that we are married before the baby comes.”

Sanders said one of the issues with rescheduling the celebration is that she has wedding guests who would struggle to adjust the time off. The couple also has the added uncertainty of having wedding guests from outside the country, who might not be able to travel to Summit County. Other pieces that were in place — like wedding favors that have the date printed on them, or prebooked services such as florists or photographers — also create rescheduling headaches. 

“Thankfully, I’ve been in Summit County for quite a while, so pretty much everyone (involved) are friends that we’ve had for years, so they just say … ‘Let me know. I’m here for you,’” Sanders said. 

Kristy Smith, another bride-to-be, originally planned a September wedding in Frisco, where she and her fiance live. However, along with the pandemic, Smith’s father is fighting stage 4 lung cancer. To make sure her father can be part of the wedding, Smith is moving the celebration to Missouri, near where he lives in Arkansas.

“We might have something smaller, simpler, less people, unfortunately,” Smith said.

Smith said she was able to get back all of her wedding planning deposits.

Leon Joseph Littlebird, who has officiated more than 300 weddings in the area, said he is trying to be flexible with the new reality couples are facing.

“The couples that I’m working with are kind of on hold,” Littlebird said. “Some have moved it to next year … other couples have moved it back into the fall.”

Littlebird said this is the first time he’s considered performing virtual ceremonies, something he would not have agreed to a year ago, because he’s hoping to help the couples move forward with their relationships. 

“Just in the last three days, I’ve had two requests to do virtual ceremonies,” Littlebird said. “My initial response was that wouldn’t work for what I do because it’s really about connecting with nature and each other and the love of the couple. … All of that is very intimate and personal and hands on. Then I started thinking about how we’re all adapting to this new world. It dawned on me that I better be open to the new reality of how things have changed in our society.”

Littlebird, who typically officiates 10-15 weddings each summer, said he expects more requests for virtual wedding ceremonies. 

“The big thing right now is uncertainty,” Littlebird said. “Couples are weighing their options. I’ve got to really be open to do the best I can for these couples that I’ve connected with.”

Profits on pause

There are many other wedding businesses that are being affected by the shutdown. Lisa Robinson, owner of Lovesome Photography, said that in her 13 years of photographing weddings, she had seen only one wedding canceled. Now, she has seen two weddings canceled and eight rescheduled. 

“Pretty much everybody through the beginning of July has rescheduled for me,” Robinson said. “In this area, we get a lot of destination weddings, so I had a few international couples … that have had to flat-out cancel just because everything is so up in the air.”

Robinson said most of her clients have rescheduled for the fall while some couples have rescheduled for next year.

“I’ve been working with them to be super flexible on how to handle all of it,” Robinson said. “I’m doing everything I can to still service the wedding.”

While Robinson’s contract with couples has a clause that deposits will be returned if a couple has to cancel due to an unforeseen circumstance, such as a national emergency, she hopes that most will reschedule instead. Returning all deposits would get “dicey” for her small business, she said.

Kayle Burns is the owner of Petal and Bean floral and event business, which books services for about 75 weddings per year. This year, she has 43 weddings booked between Memorial Day and the end of October, only one of which has canceled. Five have been moved to 2021.

The weddings that are rescheduled for next year are taking away from 2021 business, she said, so she is encouraging people who postpone weddings to rebook for later this year.

“It’s hard with weddings because it’s such a personal thing, but we’re also trying to run a business,” Burns said, adding that she has two weddings planned on the Fourth of July holiday weekend, a prime wedding slot. “If they cancel, it’s a punch in the gut.”

Andre Hampton, owner and chef of Black Diamond Gourmet catering, said he is working on the company’s deposit and cancellation policies, which previously did not allow a refund. He is encouraging clients to reschedule rather than cancel, but he said he is dealing with the issue on a case-by-case basis.

“Every day is different,” Hampton said. “Right now, we have mostly postponements, but there are a few requests for cancellations.”

Hampton said weddings make up 80% of his business from June through October. 

“Everything has slowed down,” Hampton said. “These last eight weeks to three months are usually a really strong booking period for us.”

He said people are hesitant to book weddings right now, so the catering company is offering a money back guarantee for new bookings that are later canceled due to the pandemic.

Venues sit empty

As ski resorts across Colorado struggle with an early end to the winter season, they’re also facing the daunting fact that many weddings — a big summer moneymaker — are now on hold.

Breckenridge Ski Resort and Keystone Resort offer 12 wedding venues plus a ceremony-only option on top of Dercum Mountain at Keystone. Spokeswoman Nicole Stull wrote in an email that weddings through May 31 are being canceled or rescheduled.

“At this time, weddings in June and beyond are proceeding as planned, but we will continue to closely monitor public health guidance as we approach those dates,” Stull wrote.

She explained that weddings at the two resorts are typically booked more than a year in advance. If the wedding was set to occur between now and May 31, the resorts are offering full refunds.

Other local venues, like the Silverthorne Pavilion, are in a similar position.

“Weddings are a big part of our operations at the Silverthorne Pavilion as we do over 150 weddings per year,” Silverthorne Arts and Culture Manager Sydney Schwab wrote in an email.

The pavilion has had to cancel or reschedule 48 weddings and private events between March 15 and May 31, she said.

“Right now, we are only canceling weddings through the end of May,” Schwab wrote. “We still have weddings booked starting in June through the summer. We have had some couples reaching out on their own about rescheduling summer weddings. Although summer 2020 is an unknown, several events are in the booking and planning stages for 2021 and beyond.”

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