It took Tara Mayotte and her fiance, Joe Ramirez, 10 years to plan their wedding.
The Pittsfield couple have been engaged for 11 years, together for 12. But, you know, life gets in the way, Mayotte said; babies come, family members pass away, jobs change. But, finally, they set a date, saved up their money and had the invitations for 130 guests printed — a smiling skeleton bride and groom, similar to their matching tattoos, announcing the couple's big day: July 18, 2020.
Now, she said, it looks like the coronavirus might get in the way.
"This is the worst nightmare for a bride," Mayotte said bluntly during a phone interview.
While Mayotte is months out from her wedding celebration that she booked at the Holiday Inn & Suites in Pittsfield, she most likely is staring down weeks to make a decision on whether she should postpone and try to lock down another date that will work for her vendors. As more and more couples make the decision to reschedule their nuptials, available dates in the fall, winter and next spring are being booked up.
"I get things happen, but if we have to postpone, it's going to make me really upset; [Joe] as well," she said. "Here we are 10 years out, we have the money to actually do it, and now we're told to put everything on hold and push the date. ... It's a really uneasy feeling to have."
Wedding planner Tara Consolati, owner of Tara Consolati Events based out of Otis, began fielding calls from June brides days after schools began closing due to rising COVID-19 concerns.
"All my June brides started reaching out to me at the same time, asking, 'What are we going to do?' " said Consolati, who primarily deals with high-end weddings and couples who travel from other metropolitan areas to get married in the Berkshires. "Even though we don't have all the answers, people are looking to us; you have to be a calm front because everybody else is panicking."
As of this interview, Consolati said she had three June brides who were keeping their dates, but she already has found them alternative dates in the future that work for them and their chosen vendors, just in case.
"We're holding their dates as if we're moving forward with the weddings as planned," she said. "But, we now have backup dates for October 2020, June 2021; essentially, it's almost like we've planned two weddings for each couple."
The wedding industry is about to see a domino effect. While some local wedding vendors are thankful this is happening during the slower part of their season — fewer couples get married in late winter and early spring; and some venues in the Berkshires aren't even open for large wedding events this time of year — there will be a longer impact as more and more couples look for alternative dates.
"From a business perspective, not only is the wedding industry losing out on 2020 weddings, but we're now scheduling them for 2021 on dates where vendors won't be able to take other weddings," she said. "There will be an effect on the industry's business revenue, for everyone. It will take a little bit of time to recoup our losses."
Though tricky, Diane M. Burdick, co-owner of Berkshire Bride, a wedding referral firm in Berkshire County, said she believes the outlook for this year's wedding industry still looks good.
"As fellow small-business owners, we understand that the local wedding industry is a seasonal business," said Burdick, who also owns Tux Express on North Street with her husband, Jerrid Burdick. "This pandemic has happened during our wedding off-season and has only really delayed the start at this point. ... As a whole, vendors have been checking in with their existing booked clients to ensure their dates are still secure. Once large celebrations are allowed to commence, there will be a surge in activity and vendors will be squeezing postponed brides in if those brides don't want to wait another year to get married."
For early April and May brides, like Beth Ballard, of North Adams, and her fiance, Michael Schadler, the decision practically was made for them. The couple planned to marry May 16 in Guilderland, N.Y., with about 140 of their closest family, friends and loved ones in attendance. The couple has been engaged for almost four years and have a 5-year-old son.
"We will be postponing for a future date," Ballard said in an email. "Unfortunately, we have no idea when that day will be. With this year's wedding season already booked, plus couples scrambling to find a new date, we aren't able to make a solid decision as of right now."
Burdick said she knows of 12 weddings that have rescheduled or postponed locally. Deidre Torra, owner of Deidre's Special Day in Pittsfield, said she knows of two postponements and has heard of couples choosing to get married in small, private ceremonies on their originally planned day, then having the reception at a time when everyone can gather.
"I have an awful lot of June weddings," said Torra, who has owned the bridal and formalwear shop for almost 20 years. "We may be hearing from them very soon. Nobody knows how long this is going to go on. It leaves everybody in limbo."
So far, it has almost been business as usual for Torra, except, of course, the shop is not open for customers to come in. But, every day, she goes into the South Street store to answer phone calls from concerned brides or bridesmaids and to receive the dresses that were ordered months ago that are delivered daily.
Torra and her team of five employees have been living with the fallout of the coronavirus for months now, as many of the factories that make the wedding dresses were closed overseas as the virus swept through China. Now, they are back up and running, for the most part, she said, and June and July shipments look to be on time. The front of her shop, though, is currently filled with prom dresses. Her prom business is "nonexistent" right now.
"The dresses are there," she said of her store's prom gown inventory. "I've got some beautiful dresses, but I said, 'OK, well, they take up a lot of space!' But we'll deal with it. We do the best we can to take care of our customers. ... It's all so disappointing — it's such a big day for everyone."
Consolati was part of a team of vendors who recently pulled together a small "big day" for Victoria Covington and Army Sgt. Jerrod Pass at Blantyre in Lenox. The Chicopee couple planned to marry April 4 in Las Vegas, but Pass was given orders that he could not fly domestically due to the coronavirus.
Originally, the couple planned to quickly marry at Chicopee City Hall, but then Northampton photographer Dani Klein-Williams made some calls. A handful of local vendors, including florist Carolyn Valenti and the team at Blantyre, pulled together and volunteered their talents so the couple could marry March 20, in a special, private ceremony at the Berkshire Cottage, which is currently closed for the winter.
For couples who aren't sure what they should do right now in terms of their wedding date, Consolati said it's important to remember your priorities.
"It's not necessarily advice they want to hear right now," she said. "But, my advice would be right now [brides and grooms] need to look at their priorities: Is what is most important to them that everybody is able to get together and celebrate? She's going to need to reschedule. If their priority is they just want to get married, then it's going to take creative thinking, as we're not allowed to have a gathering."
Ballard said it "was a bit of a blow" to have to make the choice to postpone their nuptials, but they already are looking forward to when the time finally comes to celebrate.
"It was hard, but it was the best decision for us," she said. "In the big scheme of things, the health and well-being of ourselves and our loved ones far outweigh the decision to postpone. ... We want to wait to be able to celebrate with the people that mean the most to us. When that day finally arrives, I'm sure it'll be beyond anything we could've ever dreamed of."
Lindsey Hollenbaugh is managing editor of features. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, @Lhollenbaugh on Twitter.