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Uncertainty, caution, for New Hampshire brides-to-be

  • Melissa Mack and Steve Butts are still hoping to proceed with their October 2020 wedding. Courtesy photo—

Granite State News Collaborative
Published: 6/12/2020 11:49:24 AM

Nora McBurnett and Lauren Shelby Douglas of Concord always planned a small wedding. They invited about 50 guests to their May 15 ceremony at the New Hampshire Audubon Society in Concord, but as the pandemic unfolded they knew that was too many guests, with the state shutdown and gatherings of more than 10 people banned.

So, the couple decided to elope on their original wedding date and postpone their ceremony until August. They planned a small forest ceremony with just six guests, and more friends and family present via Zoom video conference. They opted for floral dresses, saving their wedding gowns for their larger celebration.

“It was very different than what we planned, but it was really beautiful,” McBurnett said. At the same time, the couple rescheduled their large event until August, hoping that restrictions will ease by then. Now, however, McBurnett isn’t sure that will happen.

“Even if we’re allowed to go ahead, I just don’t know if I want that kind of celebration,” she said. “We don’t want anyone to be questioning their safety when they’re coming to celebrate with us.”

Gov. Chris Sununu announced weddings can resume June 15, with some safety measures in place. Staff will wear masks, tables will be spaced six feet apart and limited to six people, and dancing with people other than immediate family is discouraged. While some welcome the change, many New Hampshire couples are still rescheduling their events, and those who are still hoping for a 2020 wedding are grappling with limited information from vendors and pushback from guests.

Liz Costa, of New Durham, was planning a wedding with 150 guests at the Biergarten at Anheuser Busch in Merrimack on Sept. 12. With the new regulations, she would have had to cut her guest list and she was concerned people wouldn’t be comfortable dancing.

“That was a huge part of my party that I wasn’t willing to give up,” Costa said.

So, she and her fiance Robert Scruton rescheduled their event for Sept. 11, 2021, the only Saturday available that their vendors could accommodate. Scruton had misgivings about being married on Sept. 11, especially since some of their guests lost loved ones in the World Trade Center attacks, but the couple ultimately decided to go ahead with that date.

In addition, they’re having a “minimony” this year on their original date, at a small farm in Alton Bay. It was important to the couple that they still get married this year, even if the celebration needs to be put on hold.

“I didn’t want COVID to take that away,” Costa said.

Having two events is adding $3,000-$4,000 to the wedding budget, Costa said. However, there have been some silver linings: She now has two dresses and two venues, a chance to try out two different concepts for a wedding.

Carolyn Nicoli, of Northumberland, is also embracing the “minimony,” a term that has become popular with 2020 brides-to-be. Nicoli and her fiance, Benjamin Schofield, were originally planning a wedding with 130 guests at Mohawk Falls in Colebrook on Sept. 5. They’ve pushed that back until July 2021, but are planning a back-yard ceremony in Sugar Hill on the original date. With coronavirus ravaging the nation, Nicoli wanted to be married sooner rather than later.

“Looking at a pandemic, anything could change at any minute,” she said. “I just didn’t want to wait any longer.”

Still, she’s struggling with how to balance two events. She’s not sure whether she and Schofield should repeat their vows next year or not. She is saving many important events, like the cake-cutting and father-daughter dance for 2021, although she and Schofield are planning to have their first dance as husband and wife this year.

“It’s a strange time,” Nicoli said. “There are no rules to this, no etiquette.”

Since the couple had guests flying in from all over the country, they knew that postponing the big event was the right decision.

“It just wasn’t worth the risk,” Nicoli said.

Melissa Mack, of New Ipswich, estimated 40% of her 100 guests are coming from out of state — mostly from the New York area — but she still plans to go ahead with her wedding on Oct. 10. She and her fiance, Steve Butts, have had their eye on that date for three years.

“I want my wedding, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to make my wedding happen,” Mack said. “We want to move forward, but can we move forward is the question.”

Her Massachusetts venue has given her little guidance, telling her she can’t cancel the event but they also can’t guarantee it will be allowed to go ahead in October. After pressuring the venue, Mack said, the wedding coordinator committed to giving her an answer by July 1.

For now, she doesn’t even know if she should be mailing invitations. However, she’s really hoping for a joyous event this fall. She said the pandemic has made her less stressed about the small details of the wedding, like flowers, and more focused on the big picture.

“It would just be so nice to have all our family in the same room and celebrate something,” she said.

After non-stop questions from guests, Mack and Butts let everyone know that they’re moving forward with plans, but that there are no guarantees. A few invited guests said they won’t be attending.

“Quite a few people have said, ‘I don’t want to sit a few feet away from people from New York at a wedding,’” Mack said.

Mack doesn’t want guests wearing masks at the event.

“Take it off,” she said. “I want people smiling in my wedding pictures, people laughing. You can’t see that behind a mask.”

McBurnett, the Concord bride, also works as a wedding photographer. She said vendors are concerned about being at events with so many people, especially if proper social distancing isn’t in place.

“My business partner and I are a little bit scared,” she said.

Melanie Voros, owner of Blissful Beginnings, a wedding planning company in Bedford, is also concerned about how venues and hosts are going to keep people safe.

“It’s the wild west,” she said. “Every man for himself.”

She worries with weddings officially allowed to proceed, some venues will not accommodate couples who want to change their dates without losing deposits. Brides, vendors and planners who spoke with a reporter said that overall the industry is being very flexible on waiving rescheduling or cancelation fees and honoring 2020 prices for events that are moved to 2021.

“For a window of time we had [the state regulations] as a bargaining chip. The venue had to be flexible,” she said. “Now that things are opening up, I’m hoping that these later season weddings are met with the same flexibility.”

It’s not clear whether couples who want to break their contracts have any legal recourse, now that events are allowed to proceed in the state, but Voros anticipates it won’t come to that for most couples.

“Everyone is working together,” she said.

McBurnett said she and her now wife will make a decision in the next few weeks about whether to proceed with their August celebration or push it to next year. With all the stress of the pandemic, postponing the celebration has appeal, just as it did for their May ceremony.

“It was almost a relief to postpone, because we weren’t hanging on the news every day,” she said. Waiting to have a wedding outside the shadow of the pandemic could be worth it. “If people have this whole other concern weighing on their minds the entire time, how can it be what I planned for and what I dreamed it would be?”

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.


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