BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Engaged couples around the world who were planning to get married this spring and summer are having to re-think their wedding plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused many countries to ban large gatherings.
As a result, some engaged couples are eloping, some are postponing their wedding, and others are opting for a small wedding with plans for a larger celebration down the road.
Tiny wedding trend
Ann Marie Leveille, a Birmingham-based wedding planner with 10 years of experience, says in general, the pandemic has turned the wedding industry upside-down.
“We are all having to adapt and just really be flexible with our couples and vendors. I think Birmingham has a great wedding vendor community, everybody has been so gracious, willing to work with planners and couples, together,” she said.
Leveille created Tiny Weddings Birmingham, a “micro-wedding experience” in 2017 as an affordable option for couples looking to save money while still enjoying a high-quality wedding. She’s able to cut costs by booking three to four weddings on one day, usually a Sunday or Friday, with multiple couples getting married at the same venue.
“We’ve distilled down the most important bits of a wedding day really to what matters most: a ceremony with 30 guests, cake and champagne, excellent photography, beautiful flowers and design, and we call it a day,” she said.
She offers one tiny wedding day a month with prices ranging from $3,850 to $4,300, significantly less than the $17,000 average wedding cost in Alabama in 2019. In the Birmingham area, Leveille estimates the average wedding costs between $28,000 and $30,000.
Leveille said a tiny wedding is appealing for many couples who are focusing on paying off student debt or saving to buy a house, but this model is also ideal for couples who may have had to postpone a larger wedding because of the coronavirus.
The wedding venues she uses include Haven in Lakeview, the Avon Theatre, a private loft space in the Phoenix lofts, Aesthetic Birmingham and Canary Gallery.
She said her clients get most excited about the fact that their wedding is relatively low-stress, and they just have to show up and get married.
“Decision fatigue of weddings is so real, they just appreciate that it’s done for them, it’s done well and professionally,” she said.
Change of venue: Miami to Philadelphia
Joshua Lane and his fiancé Marleca Higgs decided to cancel their August 1 wedding in Miami due to the coronavirus concerns and economic impact. Instead, they plan to have a small wedding in Philadelphia where Higgs is studying law, and a large reception at a later date for more family and friends to attend.
Lane, from College Park, GA, met Higgs, from Miami, FL when visiting his best friend at Morehouse College in Atlanta during Homecoming 2017. She was studying political science at Spelman College and the two hit it off during a game night with friends.
Lane was already in his flight school training program in Michigan at the time, and the two started dating long-distance in December 2017. Prior to the pandemic, they tried to see each other around every other month, but because of travel restrictions they haven’t seen each other since mid-March.
Lane proposed during last year’s Thanksgiving break, and the couple had been planning a wedding at a Miami hotel venue with around 150 guests. Before the virus hit, Lane said they had most of their details set in stone.
“Everything from the colors, photographer, venue, the honeymoon was planned out,” he said.
But concerns about the health of their guests, travel restrictions and the economic fallout from the pandemic ultimately caused them to cancel their Miami wedding.
“We have a couple of elderly people in our family from both sides and we didn’t really want to put them at risk, even if the pandemic was going to be fine, there were still opportunities to get in contact with the virus,” Lane said.
Lane said their vendors were gracious and understanding, and they were able to get back almost all of the money they’d put down as deposits.
Lane’s flight school instruction has been paused because of the pandemic, but once it starts up again he has about a month and a half left of training. After graduation, he plans to move to Philadelphia and marry Higgs with her pastor officiating, perhaps in a park or another scenic place.
“I’ll rent a tux, she still has her wedding dress. We still desire to take pictures, even though it’ll be a smaller occasion,” he said.
Lane said he and his fiancé aren’t as upset over the canceled plans as some of their family and friends thought they would be.
“To be honest we weren’t that disappointed. It is a special event and we do want people to be there for us. Wedding planning is a stressful process, so she was a little relieved. In a way it was a way to take pressure off of us,” he said.
Backyard wedding plans
Instead of waiting to see if they could still have a large wedding in July, a couple from Greeley, CO is opting for a backyard ceremony on June 6 with immediate family only.
Nathan Skattebo and his fiancé Delaney Ragan have been engaged since October 2019, when Nathan proposed near a scenic view of Denver’s skyline. After he popped the question and she said “yes,” they went to a concert by a musician they both love: Bob Dylan.
The couple, who met at the University of Northern Colorado, originally invited 250 people to their wedding set for July 17 at a venue in Monument, CO called the Hearth House.
Ragan said she didn’t have a “super intense” vision of what she wanted for her wedding, but she and Nathan had both hoped for the chance to celebrate with people from different seasons of their lives.
“I just wanted something fun and a celebration,” Ragan said.
When Colorado began limiting gatherings to 10 people, the couple knew they needed to change plans, and decided to move up their wedding date instead of waiting for the restrictions to lift.
“We just wanted to get married. We were sick of having to social distance from each other during engagement,” Skattebo said.
Now, they plan to marry each other in Nathan’s mom’s backyard, with only their immediate family in attendance and a friend as the officiant. Once it’s safe to gather in large groups again, they hope to have a big reception at their original wedding venue. They’re both hoping they can still go on their honeymoon to Cancun in July.
Ragan said she’s looking forward to less pressure with a smaller wedding, and she’s following a trend of non-traditional weddings in her own family.
“I think it’s also kinda fun because my parents eloped and my grandparents eloped,” she said.
Skattebo said the process of changing their wedding plans has actually been good for their relationship.
“It definitely feels like we’re standing the test of many different things in this whole season,” he added.
Another plus of having the wedding in his mom’s backyard?
“We wanted a place that couldn’t fall through,” Nathan said.