“Making people happy is at the heart of what we do.”
Lovely, unforgettable weddings happen year after year in the Ottawa area. At the end of each of those wedding days, the elation and satisfaction are thanks, more often than not, to the expertise, ingenuity and dedication of the region’s wedding vendors.
We’re very lucky that way.
Now that 2020’s pandemic has upended countless Dream Day plans, however, bridal couples aren’t the only ones reeling from the impact. As a newly formed organization reports, “The COVID-19 pandemic has hit hundreds of small businesses in the region’s wedding and events industry especially hard, as many grapple with a long period with no income and a slowly reopened economy that strictly limits social gatherings.
“In response, Ottawa-Gatineau wedding industry providers—from event venues to wedding planners, officiants, florists, entertainment and other suppliers—have founded the Ottawa Gatineau Wedding Industry Association (OGWIA).”
Brian Henry, owner of Quality Entertainment, is a board member for the recently formed association, and he says, “Our objective is to support our industry through these uncertain times and to build a strong future for businesses in the wedding industry.
“We will speak to all levels of government with a unified voice and work together to elevate our profession.”
It’s not the fault of wedding venues that the government has set limits on social gatherings.
The OGWIA also aims to correct some public misconceptions:
“Recent media coverage of a pandemic wedding incorrectly blamed the venue for the impact of the government’s requirements for social gatherings. These limitations are law under the Reopening Ontario Act, which venues and guests must follow, or face large fines. They are intended to allow us to safely emerge from this pandemic. The restrictions include: maximum guest count of 50 indoors or 100 outdoors, physical distancing, mandatory use of masks, no mingling, and remaining seated throughout the event. The story suggested that venues and wedding professionals should refund deposits made, despite offering multiple options for holding new dates and customizing wedding packages to accommodate the pandemic.”
Stephanie Brown-Malenfant, owner of Stonefields Estate and another OGWIA board member, calls those government restrictions “devastating to our industry.” As she explains, “Most venues have such high operational expenses that only large events can cover the costs. Venues are now hosting smaller weddings despite the increased cost of adhering to regulations, loss of revenue, and potential risk to employees and guests. We feel for all couples, but we’re all working closely with them to find solutions for their special day.”
While a lot of couples have worked with their vendors to come up with a Plan B option or to reschedule their celebration, some have chosen to cancel and have lost their deposits. As the OGWIA points out, “These funds are used to cover the costs of working with the couple leading up to the wedding, and for venues, ongoing costs like maintenance, repairs, upgrades, property taxes, insurance, business loans and building mortgages. Refunding these deposits after 5 months with no income will potentially bankrupt many of these small family-owned businesses.”
Sophie Branchaud, owner of Sage Florals and Designs, is also a OGWIA board member. “When a couple provides their non-refundable deposit for wedding services, they are making a promise,” she explains. “Vendors rely on that promise and refuse other bookings for their wedding date. We invest our time and expertise, and we hire staff to work with our couples leading up to their wedding. We spend on equipment, supplies and repairs. It’s how our industry works. That initial deposit is spent well before the big day.”
Stephanie Brown-Malenfant undoubtedly speaks for many wedding providers when she says, “Making people happy is at the heart of what we do. It’s been heartbreaking to watch the impact on our couples. As an industry, we’ve struggled to strike a balance between taking care of each couple, while ensuring that our businesses survive the uncertainty that lies ahead.”