Event, wedding industry continues to bounce back after COVID

Several SW Washington event industry businesses are busier than ever before as people reschedule their events that were delayed in 2020

Courtesy of The Empress Estate Facebook page

As COVID-19 guidelines began to loosen in the state this year, the wedding and event industry that was hit devastatingly hard in 2020 started to bounce back – and fast. With the full reopening of the state that happened on June 30, wedding and event vendors are beginning to see a huge increase in business and are making up for lost time.

“Life is coming back and we are booking for 2022 and 2023,” said Zoe Saleem, owner of The Empress Estate wedding venue in Woodland. “We hope we have the confidence of the customers that all-inclusive had saved most of our events from the multi-vendor weddings and that we will accommodate the postponement if things close back again.”

Saleem said it has been interesting and difficult to survive the pandemic but emphasized that they made it through and are booking weddings for this year and next. He said they were forced to postpone most 2020 weddings to 2021 and had to use dates they had planned on booking new couples, losing on revenue from 2020 and revenue from dates that they postponed in 2021.

Saleem also said they are lucky at The Empress Estate to have outdoor covered areas to use for when gathering was first allowed outdoors again, and also their all-inclusive service where catering and cake is made in-house, which helped with the dependence on outside vendors that may have gone out of business due to the pandemic.

“The cost of operation is constant when the business is open but not revenue is coming,” Saleem said. “The gardeners, wedding planners and maintenance staff are all-year staff that we wanted to keep; they and their families depend on the income from The Empress, so we made sure to continue to keep them.”

Wedding and event vendors around the area are also now being hit with an increase in business as weddings and other events are beginning to pick up again. Nicole Issler, who owns and operates Nicole Issler Events, an event planning business in the Vancouver area, said she is making up for lost time by booking more weddings this year than she intended to.

“Weddings are definitely in full effect and people seem genuinely thrilled to be socializing and celebrating in large groups again,” Issler said.

Courtesy of Nicole Issler Events Facebook page

Issler said she had just launched her wedding planning business here in the Southwest Washington area in January 2020 after relocating from Los Angeles after working in the wedding industry there for a decade. She said her launch was off to a great start and she was getting consistent bookings almost every week until COVID hit two months later.

“Then my bookings came to a screeching halt and not only that, but almost all of my weddings canceled in 2020,” Issler said. “I know some vendors kept the deposit and were allowing couples to reschedule within the next year. That was the fair thing to do. I actually wound up refunding all of my deposits unless the couple rescheduled right away and telling everyone to keep me in mind if they decided to rebook their wedding for 2021 or beyond. As I’m sure many vendors have done, I know have a COVID clause in my contract.”

Issler said this year has been very busy for almost every vendor she talks to, and she said dates seemed to book up pretty quickly at various venues around the same time. She said there are definitely some popular dates that she’s had multiple booking requests for. Issler said she’s referred to other planners and had other planners refer to her, but those she refers to seem to be booked the same dates as me.

Donna Saladin, owner and operator of Country Garden Tables, first launched her elegant farm-style table rental business with her husband in 2017, and said she worked hard networking, joining wedding vendor groups, participating in wedding shows and offering their tables for styled shoots whenever possible. Saladin said 2019 was their busiest year as their name was getting out there and their tables were getting noticed.

“We thought by 2020 we would be even busier and geared up to purchase materials to increase our inventory, but by March of 2020 the country was shutting down and we only had five weddings on the books,” Saladin said. “As it got worse two weddings for the summer canceled and three postponed and we weren’t getting any new bookings. It was hard; our industry is social events, vendors were trying to decide if they could afford to stay in the business or what other industries they could go into to stay afloat and brides were deciding if they should wait it out, postpone or cancel the day they had been planning for, and some of my customers were booked two years previously.”

Courtesy of Country Garden Tables Facebook page

In August of 2020, Saladin said The Party Pros – an event rental company in the Portland Metro area – reached out to Country Garden Tables inquiring about sub-renting their tables, which would turn out to be a great fit for both of the companies as Party Pros didn’t have tables and Country Garden Tables didn’t have staff, chairs or other items brides wanted.

“We started working on getting our name out there with them and advertising one-stop shopping for everything needed to go with our tables and more,” Saladin said. “By the end of 2020 we were booking for 2021, we had increased our table inventory to 40 and added a second bar. The collaboration with The Party Pros was the best thing that could have happened for us; we supply them with tables, maintain them and they move them for us.”

Another common event/wedding vendor that has been drastically affected by the pandemic are DJs. Payton Standfill, who owns and operates professional DJ service Credo Productions, said that when he first got into the DJ business several years ago, he pretty much thought that entertainment and food (restaurants/bars/clubs) were bulletproof industries.

Payton Standfill owns and operates a professional DJ service, Credo Productions. Courtesy of Credo Productions Facebook page

“The DJ business was my ‘ace-in-the-hole’ business,” Standfill said. “When I lost my day job in restaurant marketing and there was no hope of gigs on the horizon, I was a little concerned. Ninety percent of my weddings canceled, the other 10% being on private property went ahead and followed guidelines, but they were minimal. I was essentially, for the first time since I started working at 16, 100% jobless. It was awful. Luckily, I was able to push through and many of my 2020 weddings were rescheduled to 2021.”

And now, as things get back to normal? Standfill said he’s been lucky that he’s had no rescheduling conflicts between weddings and some have even rescheduled to 2022 because they were too nervous to take a chance on 2021. He said other clients he has reached out to have told him to keep the pay, but they had already eloped in more open states and just thanked him for being available.

“So far, 2021 has proven to be extremely busy and I’ve had a flood of new gig requests come in,” Standfill said. “Unfortunately, I’ll have to fulfill contracts from 2020 before I can accept anything new, but at least the prospects of things getting back to normal is making me hopeful.”

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Joanna Yorke is the managing editor of the Vancouver Business Journal. She has worked in the journalism field since 2010 after graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Yorke worked at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground for six years and then worked at and helped start ClarkCountyToday.com.