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World & Nation

No more Vegas weddings: Couples downsize or cancel nuptials amid coronavirus

A state trooper car drives down a deserted Bourbon Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
A state trooper car drives down a deserted Bourbon Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter. The city’s marriage bureau closed Wednesday.
(Chris Graythen / Getty Images)

Ashley Dunn spent months and $15,000 planning her April 18 wedding at the Degas House bed and breakfast in New Orleans.

But on Tuesday, after Louisiana’s governor shuttered bars and businesses for weeks due to the coronavirus, Dunn canceled the ceremony.

“We currently are calling all our vendors and I’m trying to figure out what to do next,” said Dunn, 27, social media director for one of the French Quarter restaurants that closed.

Before the pandemic upended the economy, there were typically up to 30,000 weddings each weekend in the United States, a $78-billion industry involving nearly 400,000 businesses that’s grinding to a halt in destination cities such as New Orleans, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, all of which are dealing with coronavirus shutdowns.

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Nevada’s Clark County Marriage License Bureau — one of the nation’s busiest and most vaunted destinations for people looking to get hitched, especially on short notice — closed Wednesday “until further notice.”

Back in New Orleans, Dunn and her fiance, a medical student at Louisiana State University, considered waiting until the end of March. He’s a local, but she’s from Virginia, so about half of their 125 guests were planning to fly in, something that seemed increasingly risky.

Dunn checked the wedding planning website the Knot, where she joined fellow brides-to-be posting comments. The website created a hotline for couples affected by the coronavirus, but she hasn’t called the number — yet. She noticed many couples were postponing.

Dunn and her fiance ultimately decided to cancel their nuptials over the health concerns and logistical issues.

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On Friday, they learn where they will be spending his residency as of July, probably in another city.

“This is not getting better — it’s only getting worse. For the safety of our guests, in the long run it will be the best decision,” she said.

They had booked a two-week honeymoon in Britain in May, and don’t know how they will handle that. Some local vendors Dunn contacted, such as her wedding photographer, were understanding and waived the couple’s deposit.

“We just hope we have the same luck with other people,” she said.

The Knot’s editor-in-chief, Kristen Maxwell Cooper, recommends that couples who do move forward with their weddings “keep any celebration intimate, with less than 10 people for the next 15 days and less than 50 people for the next eight weeks.” But she recommends postponing, posting a short notice on a wedding website with information for guests about the new date and travel refunds.

“In these unprecedented times, more and more couples are taking the advice of both the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and [World Health Organization] to limit group gatherings and therefore postponing their weddings,” she said.

Wedding planner Meg West, owner of Ventura-based Events by M and M, not only saw all of her upcoming weddings postponed due to the coronavirus, she also had to cancel her own wedding with 60 guests at the Santa Ynez Inn on March 30.

“What it ultimately came down to for us was the safety of all of our guests,” West said. “That’s what we’re finding a lot of our clients are deciding as well. There’s fear a quarantine may come into play and guests won’t be able to get back home.”

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She said the hardest aspect of adjusting to the new crowd and travel restrictions has been the uncertainty. During wildfires two years ago, West was able to watch the news, gauge the spread and adjust accordingly.

“Overnight we moved a wedding from Saddle Rock Ranch up to Carpinteria,” out of the fire’s path, she said, but with the coronavirus, “you unfortunately don’t know what the indication of the end of it is.”

West, who plans 30 to 50 weddings a year from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, is recommending couples she works with postpone, especially while airlines and hotels are offering to adjust reservations at no extra cost.

But she cautioned that many summer wedding dates in places such as California have already been reserved.

“Lock in that date and work with the venue,” she said, calling vendors such as DJs and caterers to ensure they can make the switch.

One of the caterers she works with, Van Nuys-based Baked It Myself, managed to keep its four full-time employees on by creating a drop-off service, but owner Cheryl Canter-Valesella said their wedding business “has come to a standstill.” Their 50 part-time staff members, many of them performers, are out of work.

“There’s a whole trickle-down effect,” said Canter-Valesella, whose niece just canceled her upcoming wedding in Las Vegas due to the coronavirus.

In Vegas, some couples still took the plunge this week amid empty casinos.

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Ashley and Dan Gianuzzi of Boise, Idaho, said their vows during a ceremony in a gondola at the Venetian hotel that was shorter than their late-night wait for a marriage license — about 45 minutes.

“There was still a line!” Ashley Gianuzzi marveled. “Can’t imagine what it’s like during more normal times.”

But on Wednesday, the Clark County Marriage License Bureau closed until further notice to prevent the spread of the virus.

In Fresno, coronavirus fears led Aubrie Yepiz-Cook to downsize her May 2 wedding. Yepiz-Cook, 29, said she was keenly aware of the coronavirus risk: She’s an advocate for those in long-term care who are among the most susceptible, and her fiance, Jean Carlos Reyes, 34, works for child protective services.

They had planned to marry at a nearby nursery and beer garden with catering by local food trucks, then head with more than 250 guests to a downtown club, Fulton 55, where Reyes DJs. Instead, they announced Monday that they’re planning a backyard ceremony with 20 close friends and family members — but that is in jeopardy after Gov. Newsom on Thursday banned all gatherings until further notice.

Reyes canceled his bachelor party in Vegas next weekend. Yepiz-Cook had looked forward to honeymooning in New York in May, including the Broadway show “Moulin Rouge.” Now that’s canceled, too.

In California, at the Lake County clerk’s office, Cathy Saderlund, the auditor controller, said in-person weddings were canceled Wednesday.

“This is evolving,” Saderlund said.

Hennessy-Fiske reported from New Orleans and Etehad from Las Vegas.


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