COVID-19 wedding

John and Nicolle Wisniewski planned to marry in Ireland this month but exchanged vows in Ester instead due to travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Courtesy John and Nicolle Wisniewski

Nicolle Wisniewski planned her dream wedding in Ireland this summer. She would marry John Wisniewski in the county of his great-grandmother’s birth with 25 of their closest friends and take a tour of the country. They planned a big wedding reception in Fairbanks to follow.

But then COVID-19 happened.

“There was no way we could fly to Ireland with 25 people,” she said.

The physician’s assistant said she held out until mid-May before calling off the wedding. She wound up tying the knot at Birch Leaf Chapel earlier this month in Ester. She hopes to renew her vows next year in Ireland on her one-year anniversary.

Wisniewski is far from alone. Fairbanks area brides and grooms are cancelling, downsizing and postponing weddings this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. It has hit the wedding industry hard and is changing the way people share their special day with family and friends.

“We have couples that are really evaluating, on their own individual basis, how they want to move forward,” said Erin Chalstrom, owner of Your Story Wedding and Event Planning.

2021 will be a big wedding year, Chalstrom said. Her calendar is filling up.

“There’s a lot of options,” she said. “People are still getting married and having an enjoyable celebration.”

Couples are scaling way back in what Chalstrom described as a microwedding.

“We have folks where they are eloping and enjoying a very private ceremony,” she said.

Other weddings are being reduced to about 50 people. At receptions, tables are being spaced out, and seating is carefully planned to keep household units together. Appetizers are being served on plates to each table.

Weddings and receptions also have some new features: hand sanitizer stations and live internet feeds.

Jonathan Huff, owner of Alaska Universal Productions, said he has experienced an uptick of weddings that are wired with lighting, speakers, television monitors and microphones. He can set up two-way communications or stream the vows to an online platform such as YouTube or Facebook.

“We actually have one coming up where the father of the bride is going to be doing a prayer and a brother is going to be doing a speech through a Zoom call,” he said.

Some couples are finding they like broadcasting their vows instead of having their whole family present, he said.

“Even after the pandemic may settle down and come to an end, people are going to still be a little leery of flying, so I think we are going to continue this service,” he said.

Wedding planner Alex Sexauer, owner of Luxe and Lumen Events, said she had two couples cancel their wedding and five couples delay until next year because of the coronavirus.

Other couples are trimming the guest list, which she said can be a blessing because a smaller ceremony is less stressful.

But how do you uninvite someone to your wedding?

“It isn’t as awkward as you would think,” Sexauer said. “Out-of-town guests — they likely weren’t going to travel in anyway.”

Fewer weddings and smaller weddings has been devastating for caterers, according to Doug Campbell, owner of Midnight Sun Catering. He had 12 cancellations this summer.

“There is no place to even hold a wedding,” he said.

Hotels and other popular wedding locations are closed. Earlier this month, the Fairbanks North Star Borough abruptly closed the Birch Hill Ski Center, causing some couples to scramble for a new location.

“Our business is dead,” Campbell said. “We have pretty much lost the summer.”

One bright spot in the wedding industry is that the pandemic has not diminished the demand for flowers, according to Kyong Hollen, owner of Santina’s Flowers & Gifts.

She is noticing smaller weddings and more weddings at home but said “we’re pretty busy as a matter of fact.”

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.