Wedding crasher: Love in the time of coronavirus

By , Special to The Daily Memphian Updated: March 25, 2020 4:47 PM CT | Published: March 22, 2020 4:00 AM CT

Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.

The realization hit Halle Smith after her wedding shower on Sunday: She would have to postpone her April 25 wedding, a date that had been set since last summer.

“I knew it was happening because everybody was freaking out,” Smith said late Wednesday afternoon just before meeting with a wedding planner to move the ceremony to October.

“You plan for what could happen before a wedding, but a global pandemic is not one of them,” she said.

Smith and Andrew Argotsinger will use Facebook and a phone tree to inform the 375 guests to save their invitations for a ceremony that will still be held – a half-year later – at Germantown Presbyterian Church with a reception to follow at Avon Acres.

The couple is just one of many whose wedding dates, set between now and mid-May, have been blown up.

That’s the time frame, for now, when the Centers for Disease Control is asking people to stay apart to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

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Often a lifelong dream, huge production and major expense, weddings pack far more pressure and emotion than decisions whether to work from home or do something with friends.

Late last week, Julie Canepari was still planning her own April 4 wedding and reception for nearly 150 guests while also working for clients as a senior event consultant for Mahaffey Event & Tent Rentals.

Alarm bells rang for her when, within 24 hours, two of her big Mahaffey jobs were canceled because of the need for social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The University of Arkansas called off a donor event in Fayetteville and a St. Louis couple postponed their 500-guest wedding.

“That is when I realized,” Canepari recalled. She and her fiancé Steven Medlock had a somber discussion Thursday night and agreed to sleep on it.

She awoke with clarity on a gut-wrenching decision.

“On Friday morning, we told our parents about our decision to postpone,” she said.

“We were going to go to this gorgeous historical chapel in Germantown and say our vows in front of friends and family,” Canepari said of April 4. “I was going to tent-out my sister’s backyard and have a big party. … Had all our RSVPs and guest list. Hotel accommodations were all RSVP’d.

“And then we had to send a mass text saying we had to call it all off,” she said.

“Then we realized we used the wrong terminology (‘called off’) and everyone was calling asking ‘Are you still getting married?’”

Absolutely they are. They just don’t know when and where, yet.

“At the end of the day I told my fiancé, ‘I could marry you in our living room in our pajamas,’” she said.

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The host of an upscale wedding venue this week has witnessed the painful decision-making process that the pandemic has imposed on other couples.

“I know for a fact, whether it’s the groom and bride or their families, some of them have poured their entire life savings into these weddings,” Shelby Hartman said. “Parents have taken double jobs while their child is engaged so they can pay for the wedding.”

Hartman and her family own and operate the stately Orion Hill Wedding & Events in Arlington. Saturdays there had been booked with weddings for all of 2020 even though the 10,000-square-foot facility set on 20 acres has been open just since September.

The pressure on couples with weddings planned through mid-May intensified late last week when the CDC announced any gathering should be limited to fewer than 50 people. That cap soon dropped to 10 people.

Orion Hill did host a wedding on Saturday, March 14, but took precautions. As guests approached the neo-Colonial-style building, they came upon two hand-sanitizing stations. Inside, the caterer was required to serve food cafeteria-style instead of having guests handle the same serving utensils.

Over the past few days, Orion Hill and its clients have been able to reschedule five of the 10 weddings in the summer or fall, Hartman said.

The other couples are still grappling with difficult decisions that Hartman decided to leave up to the brides and grooms.

“I can speak for pretty much all venues because we’ve been in close contact,” Hartman said. “Most of us have left the decision up to our brides and grooms. Not because we’re trying to downplay the risks, but because we understand the gravity of it and the necessity of social distance.

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“A lot of people who have not planned a wedding, they don’t realize that a lot of people have $20,000 to $30,000 tied up in these wedding days,” Hartman said.

Saturdays may be the prime day for weddings, but look for a lot of Friday and Sunday weddings this summer and fall as the March, April and May vows are shifted into the last half of the 2020 calendar, Hartman indicated.

“They are just taking it the best they can,” she said. “It’s not an ideal situation. But they are putting the safety of their guests and older family members first.”

Three of four upcoming weddings for which The Garden District was hired to provide flowers have been rescheduled over the past few days, Greg Campbell said.

“I can’t imagine rescheduling something like a wedding,” said Campbell, who owns The Garden District with Erick New. “It’s rare that it happens in my 25 years in the business.”

Two of The Garden District’s weddings involved about 500 guests.

“It’s an emotional and delicate time for them,” Campbell said of the brides-to-be. “If you have 500 people coming to a wedding, you have to get it out there to 500 that ‘Hey, it’s postponed.’”

While some clients have not decided on a new date for their wedding, Campbell is certain about one thing. “We’re all going to have a busy September,” he said.

Count Debbie Conrad and Gregg Bialk among the engaged couples who remain resolute about sticking to their original date. In their case, it remains April 24.

They just learned Tuesday, March 17, that Memphis Botanic Garden won’t permit more than 10 people. They had planned on 50 people at the ceremony in an outdoor pavilion there and about 100 for the reception inside.

So their contingency plan as of late Wednesday afternoon was to move the event – slightly scaled back – to Conrad’s backyard that backs up to Audubon Park.

It’s the second marriage for both. She’s been single about 30 years, and his first wife died four years ago. Together, they have five adult children and nine grandchildren with another one on the way.

“Our decision is, we’re not going to postpone or cancel this,” Conrad said. “We’re getting married April 24 whether it is just he and I and the pastor.

“… I’m still going to wear my wedding gown and he will be in his tux. We’re going to have a great day and celebrate our day together with family and friends.”

As for the coronavirus, Bialk said if anyone invited has “any concern whatsoever about being around the crowd of people here, that’s totally up to them. … We’ll have hand sanitizers here, but it’s going to be outside, it’s going to be spread out.

He added, “There will be plenty of distance between everybody.”


coronavirus weddings
Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey retired in January as a business reporter at The Daily Memphian, and after 40 years in journalism. A Tupelo, Mississippi, native, he graduated from Mississippi State University. He has lived in Midtown for 36 years.


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