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COVID-19 has changed the plans of engaged couples and the survival strategy of wedding businesses for more than a year in Provo.
Hundreds of couples have either married civilly while waiting for temple availability or have adapted their wedding date to accommodate the restrictions in place at local temples.
Local wedding businesses that have adapted to the changing demand for services have remained in business by catering to the specific requirements imposed by masks and social distancing.
Co-owner of White Willow, a Provo event venue, Diana Merz said the pandemic has turned out to be a benefit.
“Since the pandemic started, we have had weddings of six people: the couple and their parents,” Merz said. “But we are starting to get busy and get more bookings.”
Merz said in March 2020 when everything stopped, it was unexpected for her business. But with her family, they began to improve the place since then. Now that she is receiving more bookings, she believes it was a great investment.
“The temples are making couples hesitant,” Merz said. “The couples are awaiting their sealing, but they still have their reception” to worry about.
Merz had several couples suspend their bookings because of the pandemic. But her business is doing everything possible to help them, she said.
“I had a bride whose dress did not arrive on time so she had to cancel her booking,” Merz said. “We are doing everything we can to help her. It’s a family business, all our family is helping her.”
The main challenge for some couples and businesses is booking a sealing date at the temple.
Ellie Johnson Nielsen, a BYU biology graduate student, was planning to get married in May 2020, but the day before their wedding all the temples closed.
“Once they closed the temple, it was serious,” Nielsen said. “We knew we are not going to be able to get sealed.”
Nielsen and her husband, Logan, were able to have a civil wedding on May 8, 2020. It was a small but meaningful event for the couple.
“We got most of our refunds, luckily they were understanding,” Nielsen said. “We got married in our backyard.”
The couple is planning to be sealed May 8, 2021 at the Provo City Center Temple, commemorating their one year wedding anniversary. However, reserving a date in the temple was much harder than expected.
“In the Provo City Temple, the way they make you schedule is over email,” Nielsen said. “There is a lot of lag between the responses.”
The Daily Universe tried to contact all the temples within a 35-mile radius from BYU, but the only temple able to answer phone calls live was the Jordan River Temple.
At the Jordan River Temple, only 16 members per couple were able to attend with the rule to use masks inside the temple, as of March 9. At the Mount Timpanogos Temple, ordinances can be scheduled up to six months in advance with the same restrictions currently in place regarding masks, as of March 20.
When calling all the other temples, the only communication they offered was through email.
For Lucy Black, a BYU wildlife and wildlands conservation student, the hardest part was to get an appointment to get an endowment ordinance.
“It was more difficult to check a date for my endowment, we tried different temples,” Black said. “And the sealing was fairly easy to get in. We knew what date, we knew what we wanted to get married in the temple.”
Unlike Nielsen, who had to wait almost a year to book a sealing date, Black and her husband got sealed on Dec. 29, 2020. The couple, however, did not get a refund on all their down payments for the original reception plans.
“We had to put down payments. I wasn’t able to get a full down payment from the venue,” Black said. “The lady’s cake held our down payment, but my sister got engaged and she would end up using our cake.”
Beehive Catering has been in the market for several years, but the pandemic made the company create strategies to remain in the market and offer a quality service to couples.
Beehive Catering manager Chris Otting was able to maintain most of his crew since they focused on serving corporate meetings in lunch boxes. For him, the nation-wide protection program to support businesses was a great relief.
“We were able to retain our staff, full pay and hopefully hire more people,” Otting said. “Now venues are booking like crazy. People prefer buffets more than boxes now.”
During the pandemic, Otting’s crew would provide between 100 to 150 box lunches, but now they are going back to the catering business inside venues.
“Boxes have been very popular, from meals, pork slice, smoked potatoes and a chocolate tart,” Otting said. “People were saying ‘hi’ to the couple and leaving with a box.”
Since the growth of business catering for indoor venues, Otting provides a sanitizing station, follows the state guidelines like wearing masks all the time, and has staff serve the food with gloves.
Wedding businesses are constantly paying attention to LDS temple regulations and state regulations to provide the best experience for newly-married couples. Each wedding is a different and unique case, therefore the availability date in each temple can affect the plans for couples.
For Kristen Kimamoto and her husband, Ikaika, it was easier to find a sealing date outside Utah.
For Kimamoto, a BYU interdisciplinary humanities student, the pandemic made her plan her wedding more simple than what she and her husband thought at the beginning.
“We are really grateful,” Kimamoto said. “That means we have to get married sooner than we expected. When he and I planned our wedding, we pondered what our values were.”
Experiences like these highlight the importance of the temple sealing over all the other wedding plans. Wedding businesses are working to give the couples the best experience possible experience, and even though temples still have some restrictions, some businesses are willing to work with uncertainty to make the best of the situation during unprecedented times.