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Couples put vows on hold as coronavirus cancels weddings

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing business closures across the nation, many brides have had to cancel or postpone their spring weddings.

Gov. Steve Sisolak announced on Tuesday that all nonessential businesses should close for 30 days, urging Nevadans to stay home and use social distancing to reduce their chance of becoming infected and spreading the virus.

“We want you to experience the joy of weddings, but this is not the time to bring your friends together, especially if this will require travel,” he said. “Consider postponing the celebration to a time when risk is low or eliminated.”

Later that night, Clark County announced that its Marriage License Bureau was closed indefinitely “in an effort to limit the potential exposure of the public and staff to the coronavirus.”

Dates changed

Gabby Benavidez, a former photo intern at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was supposed to get married March 30 at The Grove, 8080 Al Carrison St. She said she’d been holding out hope that she wouldn’t have to change plans.

But after Sisolak’s announcement, Benavidez said, she knew it needed to happen.

“It’s not the venue’s fault, and they know it’s not our fault,” Benavidez said. “They’ve been really understanding.”

Benavidez said that she and her fiance, Jairo Pulido, were able to push their wedding to September.

Gabi Costa and Cobi Hunt were supposed to get married at Rainbow Gardens, 4125 W. Charleston Blvd., on March 27 but had to postpone the wedding.

“On Tuesday morning we decided it would be best to cancel because I could not live with the guilt if someone ended up getting sick because they felt like they needed to come to our wedding,” Costa said. “I called Rainbow Gardens to cancel, and they said they were actually just about to call me and say they weren’t going to do weddings with more than 50 guests anyway.”

The couple postponed their wedding to a weekend in September but will legally get married on Sunday with only their parents in attendance. They picked up their marriage license last week — an appointment Costa almost canceled to get coffee with a friend.

“I felt so bad canceling but ultimately decided getting the marriage license was too important,” she said. “And I’m so glad I did.”

Brianne Peterson and Victoria Cole were under the impression all week that they were going to get married at Emerald at Queensridge, 891 S. Rampart Blvd., on Thursday. It wasn’t until the day of the wedding that the venue canceled on them, Peterson wrote in an email.

“As of Tuesday they said they would still do it if we wanted to, but with so many people unable or unwilling to travel, it would have been a 30-person wedding,” Peterson wrote.

She said in the email that even though the venue is closed, Emerald at Queensridge “sent us a new contract stating that we’ve rescheduled and they’re charging an additional $2,000” since their rescheduled date in 2021 falls on a Friday. She said it sounds like the venue is waiving the reschedule fee for them, but “they’ve been difficult to reschedule with.”

On Thursday morning, Peterson said she got an email from the venue saying they would be working remotely and closed until mid-April. Emerald at Queensridge did not respond to requests for comment.

Industry takes a hit

Las Vegas wedding planner Ashley Thompson said she’s had three of her spring clients postpone their weddings, and one couple canceled completely. She’s had multiple brides with wedding dates in May and June ask if they should be concerned, but Thompson said she’s holding out hope that things will calm down by then.

“There’s no way I can charge them a fee,” she said. “That just doesn’t feel right to me.”

She said everyone she knows in the wedding industry feels the same way, because they get to know the customers and are invested in their weddings. But they’re doing so at the expense of their own business.

“Moving their dates to the fall reduces my availability for future couples,” Thompson said. “And I feel bad when I have to call and tell our vendors, because then I feel responsible for taking business from them.”

Wedding photographer Alycia Moore said this week has been a nightmare. She’s had six brides call to postpone their weddings in the past two days.

Moore said she’s staying afloat financially by maintaining the nonrefundable retainers included in all of her wedding contracts – 50 percent of the final cost. She said all of the couples who have postponed so far have been understanding, and she doesn’t charge to change their dates.

“It’s just that if I give everyone a refund, I will go bankrupt,” Moore said. “I’m self-employed, so I can’t even file for unemployment or anything.”

No marriage license, no wedding

George Cotton, a minister at Shalimar Wedding Chapel, 1401 Las Vegas Blvd. South, said the chapel is closed, but he will perform ceremonies for anyone who has an appointment and a marriage license.

“It’s an important day in their lives, but we can’t control what’s happening,” Cotton said. “If they have the license, we’ll open up the chapel and marry them. That’s about the best we can do right now.”

Donne Kerestic, CEO of Chapel of the Flowers, 1717 Las Vegas Blvd. South, said his customers and his staff are his top concern right now. He’s worried about the couples who have had to cancel or postpone their weddings at the last minute and about his employees whose loved ones just lost jobs on the Strip.

He said the chapel will offer a deal to couples who get married at his chapel in 2020: two free nights in a hotel. It benefits everyone, he said.

The couples will get the free stay, which may help make up for the stress of rescheduling, and the chapel and the hotels will get business back after the loss caused by the outbreak.

“I wanted to figure out how we, collaboratively, can help right now,” Kerestic said. “And this will help the couples, and it will help us, and it can hopefully help get those businesses on the Strip up and running again, which will help my employees’ families.”

Greg Smith, owner of the Little Church of the West wedding chapel, 4617 Las Vegas Blvd. South, said the chapel will “regrettably” be forced to close through April 17.

If people have marriage licenses, Smith said he would perform couples-only weddings, without guests. Smith said he understands why Sisolak instructed nonessential businesses to close, but he argued that marriage is an essential part of life.

“People get married for all sorts of reasons,” Smith said. “Some do it to get on their spouse’s insurance, others are getting ready to go to a different country to serve in the military and they want to get married before then, so I wish the bureau would reconsider.”

Though he’s not sure what the future holds for his business, “I know it’s not good, but we’re trying to keep a stiff upper lip,” Smith said. “It’s like the old saying goes: ‘It’s all going to be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.’”

Contact Alexis Egeland at aegeland@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0335. Follow @alexis_egeland on Twitter.

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