‘Can’t cancel love:’ Local wedding industry banks on comeback in 2021

Despite all of the challenges the year brought, Ally O’Rourke will always a have a reason to be happy when she reflects on 2020.

The Dubuque resident got engaged to her fiancé, Adam Goerdt, in July, and the couple is now planning a wedding for November 2021.

The occasion will serve as more than just a monumental moment for the couple. It also represents a small part of what many hope is a roaring comeback for an industry besieged by COVID-19.

The pandemic has led to widespread cancellations or postponements of weddings, a trend that has spelled major trouble for wedding venues, photographers, DJs and bridal boutiques.

“We’ve been in business for 38 years, so we’ve weathered a few storms in the past,” said Sherrie Keating, owner of Cheryl-Ann Bridals & Tuxedos in Dubuque. “We haven’t seen anything like this though.”

Despite the difficulties, Keating believes a confluence of factors will lead to a major resurgence in the coming year.

On top of the weddings that were planned for 2021 to begin with, Keating said a large number of ceremonies have been rescheduled from this year to the next. Moreover, she believes that the nature of the past year — in which social circles shrunk and couples spent more time together — has convinced more people than usual that they are ready to tie the knot.

“I think for many couples, this year has put things into perspective, and they have made the decision to get engaged,” Keating said.

Looking forward

O’Rourke’s summer engagement came about four months after COVID-19 began to alter everyday life in the United States. The virus played a major factor as the couple scheduled their wedding date.

“We weren’t going to have such a long engagement, but we intentionally scheduled it later so it was hopefully going to be past COVID,” she said. “As we hear more news on the vaccine, we’re more confident that we’ll be able to have everyone that we want to have there.”

Countless tri-state residents have been unable to proceed with their original plans, however.

Dwight Hopfauf, general manager at Hotel Julien Dubuque, said more than 50% of wedding receptions planned at the hotel have been postponed or outright canceled. Others have had to significantly alter the size and scope of their plans.

He noted that many couples canceled weddings in the spring or early summer and rescheduled them for later in the year, only to realize that COVID-19 was still a major impediment and that they would have to push the date back even further.

“For some of the brides, this is their third time planning their own wedding,” Hopfauf said. “And there are so many puzzle pieces they have to consider. I feel terrible for them.”

Hopfauf acknowledged that moving into a new year won’t be the equivalent of flipping a switch.

COVID-19 concerns will certainly linger into the beginning of 2021, but there are indications that activity will pick up as the year continues.

“Some people are avoiding the first half of 2021, but there’s a lot more activity in the second half,” Hopfauf said. “Some couples are already lining things up for 2022.”

Staying optimistic

Keating said she believes the resurrection of the industry will come a bit sooner. She said the volume of weddings is poised to soar beginning in May, as rescheduled weddings and those initially planned for the spring of 2021 converge.

The increase in weddings could create a shortage of available DJs, photographers, videographers and other key service providers.

O’Rourke and her fiancé are acutely aware of this phenomenon. And they know the rush on service providers will only intensify if weddings in early 2021 are pushed back to later in the year.

“In mid-August, when we set a date, we knew we had to book the venue and photographer right away,” O’Rourke said.

Keating said she has tried to keep things in perspective during the pandemic, emphasizing that others in the wedding industry have been hit even harder than bridal boutiques.

“The venues and photographers and DJs, they are all tied to specific dates,” she said. “With attire, it is not going to go out of style or disintegrate in a couple of months or years.”

And like many in the industry, she is confident that pent-up demand will lead to a booming industry in the not-too-distant future.

“We have a motto since we’ve been in business that you can’t cancel love,” she said.