When Governor Wolf announced a shutdown of all “event venues” in Montgomery County last Thursday in the first of many such announcements intended to slow the contagion of the COVID-19 virus, I watched his announcement on Facebook Live, waiting for the client and caterer to arrive for the event that was planned at the Merion Tribute House that evening. The venue is located in Montgomery County. In the next hour, there was confusion and discussion as we all tried to determine what these words might mean for that evening’s event which had been planned since last fall.
Merion Tribute House, photo by Pictures by Todd
The KindHuman Foundation, the charitable arm of the beverage company Humankind, raises money and donates to clean water projects in Africa. The venue fee was the least of their expenses (our nonprofit venue provides discounts for other nonprofit organizations). This fundraiser would feature a performer they were flying in from overseas and who had just landed at Philadelphia International Airport that afternoon. Food from their caterer had already been purchased and prepared. When it became more apparent that the Governor’s words might not officially impact their relatively small event, the event organizers prayed on their decision and determined that it still would not be wise to move forward. Hearing them gathered asking for guidance was moving, and is a moment I will not soon forget. The caterer arrived and they scrambled to fit the trays of food in their cars, hopefully to use at another event planned for the following evening in Lancaster, where social distancing, as we know it now, had not yet been recommended.
Since the end of February, our venue had been preparing to host our upcoming events in a careful manner. At the time, these seemed like reasonable precautions – a daily wipe-down with bleach on all faucets, light switches, door knobs, etc.; keeping all doors open if possible so no one needed to touch one to move from one room to another; discontinuing the use of hand dryers in favor of paper towels; posting signs at the entrance and in bathrooms urging frequent hand washing.
Photo by Pictures by Todd
What a difference a week makes. Now the only reasonable precaution for most clients is official postponement. Since last Thursday, all venues have been getting frantic calls and emails from clients about cancellation and postponement policies. Many tears have been shed. Clients worry that postponing might mean cherished relatives will be too frail to attend, that the weather will be far different from what their already-purchased gowns and decor reflect, that expected guests will be on previously-planned vacations, that expenses will increase dramatically. The travel plans of many spring wedding guests have been cancelled at great expense, not to mention the honeymoons. Rumors are circulating that venues are auctioning off fall and winter dates to the highest bidders.
Our venue as well as those other venues and caterers I have spoken to have been working diligently with clients to postpone at no added expense and finding dates they are comfortable with. For our part, we have allowed guests to put more than one date on a “just in case” hold.
As a nonprofit organization, the Merion Tribute House uses all rental income to keep up our high-maintenance historic property and grounds. Basic necessities like electric, water, lawn mowing, trash removal are at least ten times higher than those of a large neighborhood home. Clients often believe their venue rental fees cover only the hours their guests will be on-site, but in reality, they contribute to all the preparations needed throughout the year to keep the space a well-maintained, clean, and beautiful backdrop before, during and after their event.
Photo by Pictures by Todd
And yet even with the possibility of losing revenue during these months, we realize we are luckier than many in this industry. The real backbone of any event are the servers, the delivery drivers, the cleaners, and all the staff behind the scenes who have already been preparing for these events…and whom clients may never meet. Even if these jobs are side jobs for some of these staff members, these side jobs might mean the difference between making the rent, putting food on the table, and not. We hope relief is in sight for them.
In the last week, some of the priorities I have been hearing really make you want to put things into perspective. Maybe your wedding won’t be on the day you had planned and maybe some guests will have to opt out for other reasons. But let’s make sure they don’t opt-out for more serious reasons. Postpone your get-together to a safer time, maintain these social distances and flatten that curve. Let’s give us all a reason to celebrate in a few months time, maybe even (in the words of one of our April brides) “toasting with a Corona”.
Colette Speakman is the manager of the Merion Tribute House, where tours of the venue are being offered at a safe social distance, or remotely by Skype, Google Hangouts, or Facebook Messenger!