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Brides, grooms and businesses scramble as coronavirus precautions crash wedding plans

This week, Long Island brides -- some with wedding dates less than a month away -- scrambled to reschedule wedding plans after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation that no gatherings with 50 people or more take place for the next eight weeks.  Credit: Newsday

Two Sundays ago, Alexandra Brand was excitedly arranging the seating chart for her wedding at the Fox Hollow Country Club in Woodbury next month.

By the next day, the Northport resident and her fiance, Bryan Krahel, scrambled to reschedule their April 18 wedding -- the couple was left with no choice after limits were placed on social and recreational gatherings. 

"It was crazy.  One minute I'm putting together welcome bags for family and friends traveling to our wedding.  And the next minute, I'm on the phone with vendors, trying to beat other couples to pick our next date. ... I'm calling and texting all my guests to let them know what's going on," she said.

Across the Island, thousands of couples find themselves in the same situation, worried about losing money as they try to reschedule their events at the last minute. 

On March 16, New York State joined New Jersey and Connecticut in a regional effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and Pennsylvania joined the coalition later that week.  Their measures include limiting social and recreational gatherings.  The four states also prohibited on-premises service for restaurants and bars, but allowed takeout and delivery.   

Engaged couples are not the only ones left scrambling. Wedding venues and vendors said cancellations and uncertainty will take an enormous toll on their businesses -- and staff layoffs have already started. 

Lessing’s Hospitality Group, an event venue and catering operator with multiple locations, has laid off most of its staff, said Michael Lessing, president of the Great River-based company.

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“We have about 1,600 employees, and I would say we’ve laid off about 1,300” across all departments and divisions, he said.

Lessing’s holds more than 10,000 events a year at its 17 venues, including 15 on Long Island, such as Bourne Mansion in Oakdale, The Vineyards at Aquebogue and Heritage Club at Bethpage.

The company is not holding any events through Mother’s Day, May 10, and most of the 500 events that were to take place by then were rescheduled for later this year or 2021, Lessing said.

That includes 145 weddings, with a combined value of approximately $3.8 million, that have been postponed or canceled at Lessing's properties, he said.

“We don’t know how long we’re closed for. … We’ve only moved the events for eight weeks. I don’t know if that’s long enough,” Lessing said.

The Dover Group owns three Long Island venues that are popular for weddings – The Milleridge Inn in Jericho, Coral House in Baldwin and The Sands on Lido Beach – as well as Dream Event Planning, Dover Caterers and four restaurants. 

Dover's business will suffer amid the shutdown for several reasons, including the venues getting very few new event bookings now because of consumers’ uncertainty about the future, said Butch Yamali, president of the Freeport-based company.  Also, he is still paying about 200 employees, he temporarily closed his Milleridge Inn Restaurant because it’s not suitable for food takeout, and he’s limiting service at Peter’s Clam Bar in Island Park to delivery and curbside pickup, he said.

“This is going to cost us millions in sales,” he said.

Dover’s event facilities host about 1,000 weddings and related events annually, including bridal showers and rehearsal dinners, Yamali said.

So far, about 30 weddings and other events that were scheduled for March have been rescheduled for later this year or next year, but a few clients canceled events that couldn’t be rescheduled, such as baby showers and birthday parties, and received refunds, he said.

“We’re not going to hold people hostage,” Yamali said.

Sand Castle, an event venue in Franklin Square, hosts only weddings – an average of about five weekly year-round, owner Nick Boultadakis said.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic and related new restrictions, he has rescheduled about 20 March and April weddings – mostly to the fall and some weekdays in the summer, he said. Three were moved to 2021.

None of his clients has canceled, he said.

“I try to listen to them and work with them and to do what customers ask us to do,” Boultadakis said.

But the financial challenges are plentiful.

He estimates his business will lose $600,000 because the 20 rescheduled weddings will take away space that otherwise would have been used for new bookings. In addition, he will continue to pay his full-time employees a total of $25,000 a week, whether they are working or not.

“I have to pay my employees because all these people are working for me for 25 years. … I care for them,” Boultadakis said.

Brand and Krahel, who've spent about $45,000 on their special day and whose 125-person guest list had been set for months, rushed to their wedding venue to meet with staff and select a new date.

Brand is still working to secure a new date for the couple's wedding reception. But the two won't wait long to marry: They'll wed in an intimate ceremony in front of a handful of their closest relatives on April 25 -- the date they met.  

When news about the coronavirus first began to spread, Bethpage residents Peter Paff and Deanna Brown weren't too worried about having to reschedule their wedding in late April. 

"I kept saying it's five weeks away. It's no big deal, it's only March now," Brown said. But by Monday, it was clear rescheduling the 200-guest event was inevitable, she said. 

Brown and Paff put their heads together and quickly came up with a creative solution to allow all invited "to be there": Broadcasting their ceremony on Facebook Live.

The couple plans to wed April 25 at Saint Patrick's Catholic Church in Smithtown. Only immediate family will attend in person but other guests are invited to tune in on social media. 

The situation is not ideal, Paff said, offering his advice for other couples going through the same thing -- "Don't be stubborn, be flexible, try to make the best of it and push through it."

Despite trying, Tiffany Lightfoot of Hempstead couldn't hold back the tears when she learned last week that she'd have to postpone her March 29 wedding reception in Oceanside. 

"I kept holding onto my faith and waiting for a miracle," she said. 

Now, Lightfoot and fiance Barry Devone plan to celebrate their marriage at a reception May 24. They'll get married March 25 in a small outdoor ceremony performed by a justice of the peace.

"If you don't use your marriage license within 60 days, you have to apply for it and pay the $65 fee for it again," Lightfoot said. "We don't want to do that and don't want to wait. We're ready to be married." 

The couple's plan to honeymoon in Puerto Rico is on hold indefinitely, she said. "We're sad we had to cancel our hotel stay and shuffle everything around last minute, but we're trying to make the most of it and we're happy all our vendors were so accommodating." 

Wendy Flores and fiance Vittorio Punzo of Farmingdale have been planning their April 4 wedding at a Franklin Square venue since 2017. Trimming down their 200-person guest list to fit the CDC's 50-person cap wasn't an option, the couple said.

"We've spent so much time planning it, we'd rather wait and have the wedding we really want," Flores said. The couple will now marry Aug. 13. To save costs, Flores will make the postponement announcements herself. 

Tim Francis and fiance Michelle Blum of Amityville planned a May wedding in Key Largo, Florida.

"Now, that's kind of up in the air," Blum said. "It's a weird time because our vendors are also unsure of what to do. Some said they would give us our money back, if that's what we wanted, but others agreed only to provide services on an alternate date." 

The two have spent about $50,000 on their 100-guest wedding, with final payments due next month. 

"I should be excited ... counting down the days to my wedding, but instead I'm glued to the news trying to find reassurance that everything will be OK by then," she said. "But truth is, who knows what's really going to happen?" 

Spring weddings on LI

Most marriages on Long Island take place in the summer and fall, but spring still brings in a significant amount of business for wedding venues and vendors.

In 2017, nearly 3,000 marriages took place on Long Island between March and May, according to the most recent data available from the New York State Department of Health.

The average cost of a wedding ceremony and reception on Long Island is $44,400, according to The Knot, a wedding resource website in Bethesda, Maryland.

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