Kathleen Hess and Conner Fenlon are still getting married on Saturday, despite the upheaval brought about by COVID-19.
The ceremony just won’t look like they originally imagined.
They’ll be surrounded by a few of their closest family members in an intimate ceremony. Afterward, there won’t be a big reception of dinner and dancing with their friends and family. Thanks to COVID-19, that will have to wait until November.
Fenlon and Hess are among the first Capital Region couples that had to reschedule their wedding because of the virus, though they certainly won’t be the last.
The couple met at Siena College in 2008; Hess was a cheerleader and Fenlon was a walk-on for the men’s basketball program that was in the midst of making three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
They started dating after they graduated, and once again it was Siena that brought them together. Fenlon serves as a radio announcer for the men's basketball team's games. Hess works in the enrollment management department and is the cheerleading coach.
“She got the cheerleading job two years after we graduated and with how social media is, I actually slid into her DMs. I just congratulated her on getting the job and we ended up talking,” Fenlon said.
At the time, he lived in his hometown, Tampa, Florida, so they had a long-distance relationship for about two years before Fenlon moved to the Capital Region. He popped the question on Oct. 5, 2018, and they started planning their wedding for March 28, 2020, at the Historic St. Mary’s Church, with the reception at Mazzone Hospitality’s 90 State Events in Albany.
“April is my busiest season with college decision day on May 1st. So it was like we can fit this in [in March] and go on our honeymoon over the summer, so it worked out well,” Hess said.
However, just over two weeks before their scheduled wedding, COVID-19 started spreading in the Capital Region. Gov. Andrew Cuomo began mandating the number of people that could be at gatherings in New York State and basketball conferences, like the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, barred fans from attending games.
“They called off fans on Wednesday night but we still stayed and at that point, I hadn’t really thought about our wedding being an issue yet. But then on Thursday in the middle of our women’s basketball game, every other conference in America shut down,” Hess said.
“It was kind of that night and Friday morning that I had come to the realization that [the wedding] was probably not happening. However, it took my parents until Sunday at about noon and it took Conner probably even longer than that.”
After a few tears and more than a few deep breaths, Hess took action, following the mantra of “calm productivity.” Her first call was to Mazzone Hospitality to see if rescheduling within the year would be possible.
“To be completely honest, by Monday night we had a brand new wedding date and everything rescheduled,” Hess said.
“Our first priority, no matter what, is taking care of our customers and our staff. So it’s definitely a trying time for us but at this point, you have to think about what it means for everybody else," said Matt Mazzone, the chief operating officer of Mazzone Hospitality.
"We want to bend over backward to make it happen for them and if we can get it rescheduled that’s all we can think about right now."
They were able to secure a new date in November and keep all but one vendor, their disc jockey, who refunded half of the contracted payment and gave the couple a recommendation for a replacement. In the coming weeks, they’ll have to send out new invitations, order new flowers, etc. But for the most part, they’re sticking with their original plans for the day.
“At the end of the day, health and family’s most important. We’ll still have a great ceremony in November. It’s a long way away, but we can wait. We’ve waited this long and we can wait a little bit longer,” Fenlon said.
That’s not to say that it wasn’t an emotional roller-coaster.
“It was a lot of tears and then there were happy tears when we finally figured out that everything was going to work [out]. I was so afraid that we were going to be waiting a whole year, which we were lucky not to have to do. I hate to say this but I think we got lucky that we were some of the first to reschedule,” Hess said.
Getting 'on the same page'
Wendy Lawrence, a Saratoga Springs-based wedding planner, can already attest to that.
“I think because of how many have had to reschedule and [with] a lot of brides and grooms taking those Fridays and Sundays, June couples could have some issues if they haven’t already started looking at other dates,” Lawrence said.
The couples she’s working with who were scheduled to be married in May have already rescheduled for the fall. Some have had to take the less-popular days like Fridays and Sundays, while another couple had to reschedule for Halloween because it was the only date the venue had open for the rest of the year.
When couples ask to reschedule, the first thing Lawrence does is reach out to all of their vendors.
“I think it’s important that we’re all on the same page throughout this journey of rescheduling and just so that we’re all making smart decisions,” Lawrence said.
Some, like Hess and Fenlon, decide to get married on their original date and hold a reception later, while others reschedule the ceremony as well as the reception. According to Lawrence, it’s a very personal choice; after all, there’s not really a modern precedent set for how to reschedule a wedding amidst a pandemic.
So far, only Lawrence’s May weddings have been rescheduled.
“I’ve been in touch with my June clients. They’re not ready to pull the trigger yet and that’s okay. I mean, they’re trying to keep that date and hopefully, they’ll be able to keep it and be able to move forward after May,” Lawrence said.
The postponed weddings will have a ripple effect on the wedding industry, which isn’t exactly a small one. According to NPR, Americans spent $54 billion on more than 2 million weddings last year.
For Mark Hersh, owner of Hersh Productions, the postponed weddings and events mean that he’s out of work for the next two months. Based in Ballston Spa, Hersh anticipates that more couples will call him and ask about rescheduling in the coming weeks.
“I’m essentially retired for the next two months,” Hersh said.
Wedding planner Tonya Pellegrini of Pellegrini Events is also in limbo.
“My timelines for all my brides are done and we’re supposed to be adding to these and giving them all the little [touches] that makes each wedding individual and now we’re just on hold,” Pellegrini said.
Most of the couples that she’s working with have summer wedding dates, and she’s recommending they try to hold another date for either later in the year or in 2021.
“It is a real possibility that we’re going to have to move the date, and it’s hard for them. They’ve planned all year,” Pellegrini said.
This year was supposed to be a big year for weddings, according to Pellegrini. However, that might not be the case moving forward.
“I think it’s going to be a really tough year. There could be no weddings this season or we could pick up in the next eight weeks and it could bounce back,” Pellegrini said.
The uncertainty makes it challenging for couples to decide when to reschedule, and it’s part of the reason why Pellegrini recommends couples secure a second date.
“Most of [my clients] are looking at the year out. I think the big reason is design and decor. You can change those things but it’s very emotional [when] you’ve taken time to pick out linens and flowers and all those things. To do that all again without knowing if it’s a sure thing even for the fall is just another emotional hill,” Pellegrini said.
“Everyone’s in this together and we’re trying to work together. I feel the vendors are emotional too but in the end, it’s about your couples.”
“It’s a pretty big challenge for this industry right now and I think the best thing that I’ve seen is I’ve talked to a number of other event professionals on a daily basis. I probably have 10 to 15 phone calls with them, talking to [them and] being a sounding board; trying to be the best partner I can be. That’s all you can do at this time,” Mazzone said.
Advice for couples
From Tonya Pellegrini:
“I would reach out to your venue first and then your vendors and see what their policy is to change your wedding date. Look at the dates that you want, give them a couple [of] possibilities because people are booking out for 2021. Ask your venue and vendors if they have the capability to have you hold [another date] without losing your original date.”
From Kathleen Hess:
“Calm productivity was my mantra. Also just letting go of the vision that you had for the day and being okay if it looks a little different.”
From Conner Fenlon:
“As much as it hurt, it’s not the end of the world. Health is most important.”