Wedding industry, engaged couples facing ‘unprecedented’ cancellations amid COVID-19 outbreak

Shahla Jalali has been planning her wedding day for more than two years — booking vendors, finding a venue, and picking a first dance song with her fiance.

The pair settled on Stand By Me,’ the swaying ’60s classic by Ben E. King.

“I won’t be afraid,” it goes, “just as long as you stand, stand by me.”

The song has taken on a new meaning now for the Markham, Ont. couple.

The pair recently called off their wedding, which was set to take place in Brampton, Ont., on March 21, amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“There was just no way I was going to expose those people — everyone I loved in one room — to a potential disease,” Jalali says. “I would never be able to look back on my wedding day and say, ‘This is the happiest day of my life.'”

Thousands of engaged couples across Canada are facing a similar decision amid public-health recommendations to avoid large gatherings. The goal? Preventing widespread transmission of the virus behind a potentially-deadly disease which threatens to cripple the country’s health-care system.

Even so, it’s an emotional choice for couples who’ve invested time and money in a long-awaited celebration — as shown by the buzzing wedding forums online, where engaged Canadians are struggling to figure out solutions and ease the concerns of guests.

Ashley Lindzon, a Toronto-area wedding planner who’s been in the business for eight years, also says the impact on the wedding industry could be “unprecedented.”

All the weddings she knows of in March and April have already been called off, along with other celebrations like bar mitzvahs.

While many events are being postponed, others are being cancelled outright.

“Everybody is doing their best to work with each other and their clients to minimize financial implications,” Lindzon says. “But that’s easier said than done sometimes.”

‘People will be losing their businesses’

Meantime, Jalali is expecting to lose up to a third of the nearly $20,000 she expected to spend on the wedding through lost deposits, though she does intend to reschedule for another date later this year, or as far out as summer 2021.

It’s a “little devastating,” she notes.

And vendors are feeling the financial sting as well.

On a weekday afternoon, Toronto florist Shannon Whelan has filled a cart with flowers to hand out for free along bustling Queen Street West. She says they’re stock from a wholesaler who can’t find buyers now that weddings have dried up and shops are closing.

The Euclid Farms owner, who is bracing to lose clients herself in the spring wedding season, is also buying up bouquets from other florists coping with excess stock from cancelled weddings, selling them online, and delivering them by hand throughout the city.

“A lot of us are stuck in a really sticky situation,” she says. “You buy in so much product that you’re paying outright for. So when the event gets cancelled, not only are you not working — you’re also losing thousands of dollars.”

The wedding season really starts to pick up in May, she adds, and it’s the period where most wedding vendors make the bulk of their annual income.

“People will be losing their businesses,” she says. “What do you do when you can’t make money?”

With an average of roughly 10,000 weddings in Canada every month, it’s a big business country-wide — with a lot of little local players — that could be among the industries hit hard by the pandemic.

Lindzon recommends that any engaged couples concerned about their upcoming events, even those scheduled several months in the future, reach out to vendors early to start working out their options.

For Jalali, it’s all about putting the situation in perspective.

Many of her 85 invited guests were older; some are cancer survivors, or people with an auto-immune condition like herself — the very people most at risk of a dire outcome from contracting the virus behind COVID-19.

“You can’t put a price tag on people that you love,” she says.


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