Maine Couples Get Creative To Tie The Knot During The Pandemic
When the coronavirus hit Maine, it was just before prime wedding season. Weddings and related tourism contribute nearly a billion dollars to the state economy, but wedding business this season has largely evaporated as many couples have either canceled or postponed their plans.
Some couples have decided to move forward — opting for micro-weddings or “minimonies” — and the state’s wedding industry is adapting.
Like many couples, Anna and Adam Gardner of Falmouth have a video of their wedding. But it’s not the typical, highly produced blend of images and sounds from the big day. It’s a livestream.
The camera is rolling well before things get underway. Family members wearing masks walk in and out of the frame, sometimes turning to face the camera and wave.
This isn’t what Anna and Adam had originally planned for their mid-May wedding. When the coronavirus ushered in restrictions on gatherings and quarantine requirements for out-of-state visitors, the couple drastically pared down their guest list to just parents and siblings. It shrunk from 120 to 17. They scrapped their church ceremony and oceanside reception venue for a friend of a friend’s furnished barn.
Instead of the usual worries about decorating details, they had to figure out how to limit who touched their wedding rings.
“Part of it was thinking of our officiant. He said, ‘OK, we don’t want the maid of honor holding the rings, and then pass them to me, and then I pass them to you, because that sort of defeats the purpose of socially distancing,’” Anna says.
Their solution? Put the rings in a bowl.
Then there was dinner, which presented another dilemma.
“It was sort of framed around, OK, how can we get everyone in there to get married, and then get everyone out so they’re not around each other?” Anna says.
“As fast as possible,” Adam says.
The caterer was already planning to package meals in individual containers. Adam and Anna decided it would be best if their families just took their meals home while the two of them stayed behind for an intimate dinner.
These are the kinds of quandaries that marrying couples now have to confront. It’s even spawned a Facebook group called the “Covid Brides of Maine.”
“Weddings and uncertainty don’t mix,” says Leigh Doran of Scarborough-based Nadra Photography.
Doran says everyone involved with the wedding industry is trying to adapt. But it’s tough to pivot in a sector that typically entails months of planning.
2020 had been shaping up to be a banner year, she says, largely because of the number itself. Its repeating digits sound nice, and it’s easy to remember.
“This was one of those funny years when couples love to get married and have that date on their wedding album,” she says.
But Doran says 90 percent of clients have either postponed or canceled. At least with postponements, she can expect a busy season next year. But making it till then poses a challenge.
Angela Buker, the owner of Fairytale Gardens and Weddings in Madison, says her business has dropped by more than half.
“I’m walking around the property today, looking at how beautiful the gardens are, and we’re sitting here waiting for a wedding. And normally this time of year, there are so many happy people coming and decorating, and it’s just — it’s been sad,” she says.
To entice couples to keep their wedding dates, Buker is offering outdoor dining at no extra cost. She’s also allowing larger parties, which she’ll consider several groups of 50 — the state’s size limit on gatherings.
“I’m at the end of my rope. And if we don’t do something, I’ll be out of business anyways,” she says.
Others, like Portland-based wedding planner Anna Paschal, are promoting smaller, micro-weddings, which usually have about 50 guests.
“I have actually received a fair amount of inquiries and interest around those,” she says.
Paschal is hoping these smaller ceremonies will fill the void left by canceled weddings. And in planning them, she says there are entirely new kinds of details to sort through.
“I have clients that are customizing wedding masks with their monograms and putting them in their welcome bags for guests. So, I’m sure we’ll see more of that,” she says.
And some couples are opting for events that are even smaller than micro weddings. Buxton-based photographer Katelyn Mallett says she had started to specialize in elopements even before COVID-19. This season especially, she says, they’re suited for a “marry now, party later” approach.
They’re not the run-away-in-secret nuptials from the past. Mallett says elopements are more intimate — fewer than 20 people — and often more meaningful.
“They’re just so much less stressful, and there’s not so much pressure and obligation to get back to your guests, and all of these timelines,” she says.
“This turned out to be much more our style,” Anna says, between the cozy barn setting and the relaxed pace of the day.
Plus, they say they were able to invite far more people to witness their wedding thanks to the livestream.
“Honestly, I think it’s the way to go to do a small wedding and then if you are like us, wanting a celebration, to do it later. I would do it again. I would do it again even if COVID wasn’t happening,” Anna says. “It’s a lot less stressful.”