Wedding bell blues

Telluride Unveiled clients Silke and Peter at their 2019 wedding. Many couples are postponing their 2020 wedding plans until next year. (Photo courtesy Teresa Woodhull /Telluride Unveiled)

It should come as little surprise that Colorado ranks 17th among states that are chosen to celebrate weddings. Stunning vistas, unique venues and a host of top-notch vendors — think food, flowers, music, photography and more — conspire to create celebrations that leave a lifetime of memories. In Telluride, the height of wedding season lasts from May through October, though nearly every month of the year, happy brides and grooms can be spotted on Main Street, on the courthouse steps, at Bear Creek Falls, toasting at the New Sheridan bar, or in any other of the area’s numerous venues.

Weddings are an economic boon to Colorado communities. According to Wedding Report, the average wedding costs $23,775, and guests traveling to destination weddings spend an average of $713 to attend. Wedding parties number, on average, around 130 guests. And twenty-five percent of weddings nationally, are destination weddings.

And then came the COVID-19 pandemic and with it, the wedding bell blues, as celebration after celebration was either outright canceled or postponed until 2021. Still, there are weddings, though many are less structured. San Miguel County clerk Stephanie Van Damme is seeing “lots of elopements.” Last year there were 249 marriage licenses pulled, compared to 110 so far this year. Though the wedding season has been impacted, local planners soldier on and hope for the best, both during and post-pandemic. 

J. Meehan Fee of Telluride Unveiled remains sunnily optimistic even though she said 95 percent of her business has been put off until next year. Her wedding and event planning team has been in business since 2003. Like all in the event planning industry, 2020 is all about the pandemic.

“As with the rest of the event industry, the pandemic has drastically reduced our ability to host and produce events, since group gatherings have been shown to be a significant source of transmission,” Fee said.

Still, there have been a few celebrations here and there, though they are layered with public health orders that, among other directives, call for social distancing, limitations on crowd size and wearing face coverings.

“As a company, we're incredibly mindful of the requirements the public health orders have put in place,” she explained. “The number of guests at each event have been greatly reduced and we adhere to specifics in regards to location and guest seating, and we've recreated menus and timelines with guest and staff safety in mind.”

Telluride Unveiled takes a creative approach to keeping guests safe, with customized masks and hand sanitizer bottles, as well as rethinking how food and drinks are served, “so that guests aren't milling about inside without masks, but are instead seated at tables with their cohorts.”

Best of all, a Telluride summer wedding can — and as is often the case, pandemic or not — take advantage of the natural environment.

“We rely heavily on the beautiful outdoor locations that we have, where guests can spread out, enjoy the fresh air, and admire the breathtaking views,” Fee said.

Telluride’s appeal as a wedding destination remains beloved to her clients, and she has found that in wanting to be married in the mountains, many are flexible with their original plans.

“As a destination, Telluride is so many people's ‘special place.’” She explained. “And so, even if the day can't occur as originally envisioned, it is still incredibly important to our clients that their vows are taken here. We recently had an intimate wedding that was scheduled for this October, but they chose to move their wedding up, attended only by their parents because the bride couldn't imagine taking her vows anywhere except the town she grew up visiting. Originally a lavish wedding celebration for 150, we had initially worked with the couple to adjust the wedding to an event for less than 50 guests in October, and then ultimately into the beautifully intimate celebration that occurred.”

Kathleen Cole of Telluride Presents said her business, unsurprisingly, is down, as 75 percent of her events have been postponed until 2021. In the wedding biz since 2009, like Fee, she runs her pandemic-affected events in deference to public health orders.

“So far all of my clients have provided masks that I’ve handed out prior to the ceremony and reception,” Cole said. “The ceremony sites have spaced chairs for guests and reception sites have spaced out tables and limited guest table count to six people. Many of the reception sites have seating indoors and outdoors, so the businesses have made sure to split the entire wedding party up.”

As weddings are joyous affairs that can often swirl into tipsy excess, Cole has sometimes found herself gently reminding her clients that face coverings and distancing are the new normal.

“I have become the enforcer and ‘mask-police,’ so to speak, and it does add another element to my job,” she said. 

But most clients, she said, fully understand what it takes to have a wedding celebration in 2020 and have proven flexible in their planning.

“All of the weddings have pretty much cut their entire guest count to below 50,” Cole said. “A majority of the 2020 weddings I had are electing to do their ceremony only, and are inviting less than 30 guests.” 

Looking ahead to 2021, a year in which there is little guarantee that things will return to pre-pandemic norms, Cole looks on the bright side. But what if it’s a repeat of 2020?

“I’ll just have to roll with it. No sense in freaking out,” she said, “These are different times and, if anything, I’ll have more experience with it since I’ve already dealt with it this past season.”

For Polished Fun’s Amy Palamar Puckett, the pandemic has completely stunted her services in Telluride. One-hundred percent of her clients have postponed their nuptials. She’s based in Los Angeles but said that 50 percent of her work takes place in Telluride. Since she specializes in “luxury tented or larger custom events,” public health orders limiting crowd sizes have made it economically prohibitive for Puckett to do smaller events in Telluride. But, looking to 2021, she will look to scaled-down affairs.

“If COVID does not get better, my clients will have to downscale to small family weddings and if comfortable traveling will move ahead with Telluride,” she said.  

But this year, her clients would rather wait to be able to celebrate unmasked.

“My clients do not want to have a wedding if they have to social distance or wear a mask, so they are waiting,” Puckett said. “Many of them will elope and have a celebration when we can have large groups without social distancing or masks.”    

Patience will award Polished Fun clients with a gorgeous setting for a wedding, even if it has to be a smaller event.

“Telluride is gorgeous and the perfect destination wedding location,” Puckett said. “It’s ideal for a small wedding and lends itself well to an outdoor celebration.” 

Telluride Unveiled’s Fee said despite a pandemic that has interrupted any semblance of “business as usual,” the special occasion that is a wedding still retains its charm for those who stick with getting married in 2020.

“I think the most surprising thing this season is how normal the events of this summer have felt,” she said. “The joy and love have been palpable, and the events have had the same fluidity that we've always seen at the events we produce. Ultimately, by considering and meticulously planning every aspect of the day as well as each regulation — both potential and realized — the day unfolds with the attention squarely where it should be … entirely on the couple's happiness.”