James Stevenson and Katie Bergus, a Seattle couple, were keeping their March 21 wedding small, about 55-60 guests. In early planning, they thought they’d splurge a bit: booking the top floor of the Columbia Tower for the event. But as the date grew closer, the cancellations started coming.
“We started, like every other day, checking in with each other — ‘Should we reconsider?’” said Stevenson, a computer science graduate student. Ultimately, on March 13, the couple got a call from their wedding photographer, saying she didn’t feel she could safely work the event. At that point, Stevenson said, he and Bergus, a medical student, decided “We should probably make the same consideration for our guests.”
It’s a conversation had by numerous couples who unwittingly scheduled a wedding in the time of coronavirus. Most would have begun their planning back in 2019, and then in recent weeks watched in dismay as Gov. Jay Inslee began putting limitations on weddings (or any gatherings). On March 11, Inslee announced that all gatherings in certain counties would be limited to fewer than 250 guests. Four days later, it was dropped to 50 guests, statewide. The following week: no gatherings at all, including weddings of any size.
Despite that, it’s still technically possible to get married this month. In King County, couples can apply for a marriage license from the King County Records Office (though it has to be done by mail; the office is closed for walk-in service). Though local courthouses are closed to all but emergency business, and most judges would likely decline to perform weddings during this time, some officiants may be willing to conduct a ceremony remotely, using Zoom or other teleconferencing software. (Of course, guests will have to attend remotely as well.)
But realistically, what this means for most couples is a drastic change of plans. So far, there hasn’t been a stampede of postponements: Nora Sheils, wedding planner and founder of Bridal Bliss, which plans weddings in Seattle, Portland and Bend, Ore., noted that this is, thankfully, a slower time of year for weddings. “We typically start to ramp up in May,” she said.
Kaspars Catering and Events sales manager Rachael Browning, whose company books the popular wedding site the Stimson-Green Mansion on Seattle’s First Hill, likewise said that so far they’ve only had two canceled weddings this spring. The bulk of weddings booked for the site are June through October, and none of those couples has requested postponement or cancellation — yet.
Likewise, local wedding photographer Jennifer Tai said that by March 24, she had had only two postponements, but was bracing for more. So far for 2020, she has 24 weddings booked, most of them June through October; some of those with June dates, she said, are already emailing to alert Tai that their plans may be changing.
A wedding planned for late spring 2020 is, optimistically, a question mark. On Thursday, Inslee extended the state’s stay-home order through May 4. Even into August, Sheils said, “there are going to be less people attending,” due to both fears about the coronavirus and some people’s strained finances making travel difficult or impossible. (She advises couples getting married from May onward to look carefully at their contracts and be sure to understand cancellation policies — and to have a contingency plan with another date, just in case.)
For those long settled on an early spring date, however, life has made other plans: Any wedding scheduled for mid-March through April has had to be postponed or rescheduled. Diana Trinh and Domonique Meeks were legally married at the courthouse over a year ago, but had long looked forward to a festive March 21 ceremony at The 101 in Pioneer Square with 170 family members and friends. “To my grandmother, we’re not married yet until she comes from Louisiana and witnesses it!” said Meeks, laughing.
But Trinh, a physician assistant, began hearing coronavirus news early, and soon “It became very apparent that this was much bigger than us,” said Meeks, who works for the city of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development. By mid-March, they had moved their plans to Aug. 28, with the venue allowing them to reschedule without penalty. When March 21 proved to be a beautiful day, the two allowed themselves some disappointment but no regrets. “I would have been devastated if anyone would have gotten sick coming to our wedding,” said Trinh. “I didn’t mind moving the wedding at all.”
Not everyone is so lucky with rescheduling. Stevenson and Bergus are moving soon — she’s beginning a medical residency in Ohio in June — and not knowing when it’ll be safe to reschedule means they may not be able to gather friends for a celebration. With their wedding clothes tucked away for now (Bergus’ gown is in their roommate’s closet, so Stevenson doesn’t bump into it), they may be able to plan “something small with family” for later in the spring. Stevenson was careful to note, though, that rescheduling a wedding “is just a little annoyance — much more small-scale than the people who are really struggling.”
A crush of rescheduling to the fall means that desirable dates get snapped up quickly, leaving few remaining. Chelsea Mitchell and her fiancé, Tri Hua, both Seattle-based Microsoft employees, canceled their April 5 destination wedding in San Diego several weeks ago, and were lucky to rebook at their original venue, a place Mitchell said is usually booked out two years in advance. The new date: September 11, 2020.
“There was pretty much no other available date, but that one was open and we thought, September in San Diego, that should be pretty good!” Mitchell said, laughing. “Hopefully everything’s OK by then.”
And a few lucky couples were able to squeeze in a tiny, social-distanced wedding just before the ban on all gatherings came down. Katie Clark and Evan Corr, both Seattle tech industry workers, planned to marry in front of 200 guests on March 21 at the Alderbrook Resort on Hood Canal, but the plans kept changing as state guidance kept changing. Finally, after the venue closed temporarily due to the governor’s order, Clark’s sister offered her Olympia home for an immediate-family-only ceremony. “We thought, ‘Maybe we should just do this,’” Clark said.
The 200 guests became 10, and the wedding became a study in social distancing. The photographers came only briefly and stayed 6 feet away at all times; the Olympia restaurant, Jean Pierre’s, that catered the dinner meticulously plated everything separately so people wouldn’t have to crowd around a buffet; and the cocktail hour featured dressed-up guests attending digitally via Zoom.
Clark said the Zoom gathering was a “huge surprise,” arranged by wedding planner Molly Wright and Clark’s sister. “It wasn’t the whole guest list but people who would have been sitting with us at our head table” — a few close friends and family, including the aunt who made Clark’s dress. Each took a moment to toast the couple. “It was the best thing that could ever have happened,” said Clark. “It was so emotional and beautiful and heartwarming and kind of made it more real.”
Speaking from her impromptu honeymoon — after their planned trip to Costa Rica was canceled and a trip to the Oregon coast was cut short due to coronavirus restrictions, the two were holing up on the Washington coast near Ocean Shores — Clark said they might do a larger reception later, though things were too uncertain right now to make plans. But she said she felt incredibly lucky: If her wedding had been just a few days later, even a 10-person gathering wouldn’t have been allowed.
“I would not have changed it for the world,” she said. “It was honestly like the best. I kind of wish I had planned it that way from the beginning.”
This story was updated 4/7/20 to correct the spelling of James Stevenson’s name.