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I-TEAM: 2020 wedding woes bleed into 2021 for many brides-to-be

Published: Feb. 11, 2021 at 6:35 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Love is in the air, but so is COVID-19. We found more than 40 percent of couples last year postponed their big day to 2021.

Now here we are in the new year with a second wave of the virus and a backlog of brides scrambling to change their wedding plans yet again.

It’s costing both brides and businesses alike.

The Office of Consumer Protection saw a spike in wedding vendor and venue complaints from Georgia couples last year. Meanwhile, I found those in the wedding business are reporting record losses.

But let’s introduce you to Kimberly Devine and Ernie Reed and Sarah Lusk and John Moore to help tell our story.

“Twenty years ago, I was his daughter’s kindergarten teacher,” Devine said.

“John and I met on Tinder -- very 21st-century romance,” Lusk said

“My sister was at a scene of a car wreck and he remembered my sister and said, ‘Is Kim your sister?’” Devine said.

“I knew pretty early on he was the one,” Lusk said.

Reed and Devine’s story seems worthy of a fairytale wedding.

“February 20 of this year was our planned scheduled date,” Devine said.

Nothing went as planned in 2020. By November, it wasn’t getting much better.

“I just had this uneasiness,” Devine said.

Devine and Reed made the decision to change their wedding plans.

“The more I thought about it, the safety of my family and the people I love is much, much more than a wedding,” Devine said.

The couple decided to trade their big wedding for a small intimate ceremony at her parents’ home. They told their wedding planner they would no longer need her services.

“I completely and totally understand her keeping the retainer fee, but $3,200?” Devine said.

We reached out to the wedding planner. She declined to interview, but told us she offered to transfer her services to another date and that she could not send them a refund.

“I don’t understand how she can validate keeping that money,” Devine said.

Devine isn’t the only disgruntled pandemic bride. We found a surge of complaints began flooding the Office of Consumer Protection last March. The majority involved contract disputes and/or negotiations to reschedule cancel or obtain a refund due to covid.

“There are so many businesses really hurting and really struggling and my heart just goes to them,” Jane Ellaissi of Elegant Bridal in Augusta said.

Ellaissi’s sales are down 30 percent. It’s troublesome because some brides now can’t afford a dress.

“We are trying to work with payment plans trying to help them out as well,” Ellaissi said.

Nationally, the wedding sector lost $30 billion during 2020.

Locally, we found marriage licenses fell nearly 8 percent in Richmond County.

“We are seeing the minimony,” Ellaissi said. “A minimony is where they still want to get married, they are still in love, they don’t want to put off another day, but right now they can’t have the large ceremony.”

Nearly half of engaged couples cut their budget by 31 percent in 2020 and more than half cut their guest count by an average of 41 percent, according to wedding market research.

That’s what happened to Lusk and Moore -- who had a 200-250 person guest list for their December nuptials.

“Yeah,” Lusk said. “Didn’t end up that way.”

Lusk watched her chances of a big wedding fall with each passing month.

“By April or May, I was thinking we may have a problem here,” Lusk said.

She’s an expert at readjusting plans on the fly. She does it every day here at News 12 NBC 26.

“It was tough,” Lusk said of the adjusted wedding plans. “You start off with this big dream.”

Ellaissi has adjusted her services to meet new demands in a changing wedding market.

“We have some dresses scaled-down that don’t have the train -- less formal,” Ellaissi said. “Girls are going to city hall or getting married in their home church with just their family.”

Lusk is willing to wait for her dream wedding, but she couldn’t wait any longer to marry the love of her life.

“The how didn’t work out how I planned, but the who is still a sure thing,” Lusk said.

Lusk and Moore exchanged vows in a minimony this past December.

Devine and Reed will tie the knot this Saturday.

The pandemic may have robbed people of wedding dreams and business plans, but it cannot steal love.

Experts predict postponed weddings will lead to a surge of weddings later this year, but they also believe smaller and less formal ceremonies could be a trend that sticks around for a while. Big or small, contracts detailing cancelation and rescheduling policies have never been more important than during the pandemic -- for protecting both the bride and groom and the business.

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