Wedding season in Maine has looked different since COVID-19 arrived in March 2020.
The first year of the pandemic saw many couples downsize or postpone their marriage plans, according to local vendors. The number of weddings increased in 2021 as vaccination rates rose and restrictions loosened, but couples still chose to hold off on blowout celebrations.
Now, even as COVID-19 cases tick upward once again, vendors are preparing for the partying to hit a new level.
“I think people are ready to celebrate,” said Kristina Slocum, owner of Purple Orchid Weddings and Events in Topsham. “They’re ready to hug. They are ready to be with their family and friends, and from what I’m seeing and hearing they’re finally feeling safe about it.”
A LESSON IN PATIENCE
The Rev. Erika Hewitt only officiated about nine weddings in 2020, and many of them didn’t resemble a typical ceremony.
“Most of my weddings in 2020 were what I would call micro-weddings,” said Hewitt, a Bath minister. “Where a couple originally wanted to have a 120 people there, they might have had 10.”
Some couples traded grand plans for intimate gatherings, while others postponed until they could throw their dream weddings, free from any travel or capacity restrictions. A surge of cases during the holidays made it difficult to know when that time would come.
“It felt like 2020 taught all of us how to be patient and how to make and remake and revisit decisions every month,” Hewitt said.
Few people reached out to Hewitt during the winter months, when she normally books weddings for the summer. Then the COVID-19 vaccine became widely available in spring 2021, and the bookings flooded in.
“It was like the dam burst,” Hewitt said. “I remember last May and June just feeling like all of a sudden people were coming out of the woodwork.”
READY TO PARTY
Though Hewitt called 2021 one of her busiest years ever, other vendors said their seasons didn’t reach pre-pandemic heights.
Weddings remained slightly down at the Maine Maritime Museum, a venue well suited to COVID-era events because of its large, outdoor spaces, according to Marketing and Communications Manager Amanda Pleau. This year, the museum will host a wedding or rehearsal dinner nearly every week, a trend that lines up with marriage license data from the Portland City Clerk’s office.
Portland awarded 730 marriage licenses in 2021, according to the city clerk’s office. That was a jump from the 501 given out in 2020, but well below the 850 couples received in 2019.
Now, Maine’s wedding industry seems to be trending up again. As of April 22, Portland had already awarded 152 marriage licenses in 2022, 40% more than it gave out through April 2021 and 16% more than the same time period in 2019.
That jump may undersell the coming wedding arises, according to Slocum. Many of her clients of her this year do not need a marriage license at all, because they’ve already legally wed.
“We saw a lot of people having their wedding in 2021, and now this year they are celebrating,” Slocum said. “I would say 30% of our couples getting married this year are already married.”
Between those who always planned on a 2022 wedding, those who delayed to 2022 and those who are looking to celebrate a previous ceremony, couples are keeping local vendors on their toes.
“We’re busy,” Slocum said. “We’re busy.”
A NEW WORLD
The surge has been great business for wedding planners, but it has also posed logistical challenges for couples.
While Slocum can normally organize a wedding in eight to ten months, she said couples may now have to plan 16 to 18 months in advance. Inflation and supply chain issues have raised prices, even as vendors struggle to provide the rental tents, linens and china couples need.
“Our clients used to be able to call one company and get everything they needed,” Slocum said. “Now we’re finding that clients are calling two to three companies at a minimum. One company doesn’t have everything.”
After living with the pandemic for more than two years, many families have been happy to open their checkbooks to fund blowout celebrations, according to Slocum.
But after 2020 forced a rewrite of the traditional wedding playbook, Hewitt said some couples are choosing to embrace alternatives to a Saturday ceremony.
“The season I’m looking at now, which starts on April 30th, I have a bunch of micro weddings and weddings that are on Wednesdays and Thursdays and Sundays,” Hewitt said. “I think (the pandemic) helped couples realize that the old rules and patterns don’t necessarily apply.”
For wedding throwers, that means more flexibility than ever before.
For guests, it means keep your calendars open: the great wedding season of 2022 is coming to Maine.
Portland a cappella group presents Folk Song Suite