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Wedding photographer says the pandemic has set her back 'tens of thousands' so far—here's how 5 wedding professionals are faring

Portrait of Kristen Kaiser, a wedding photographer based in Peoria, Illinois, whose work has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Courtesy of Kristen Kaiser.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, U.S. cities have banned large gatherings and asked Americans to follow proper social distancing guidelines. Unsurprisingly, this has led to a major slowdown in the wedding industry, with many couples canceling or postponing their big day.

For many who work in the wedding industry, including photographers and caterers, that has led to a loss in income. Wedding vendors "have been struggling to keep their businesses up and running ... during this unprecedented time," says Dhanusha Sivajee, chief marketing officer at The Knot Worldwide, a global wedding company that houses several brands, including The Nest and WeddingWire.

"According to the 2020 WeddingWire Newlywed Report, couples hire an average of 15 wedding professionals — like a venue, caterer, florist, band or DJ, photographer, cake baker — to create their special day," Sivajee says. "There isn't one vendor category that is struggling more than the other, everyone is feeling the impact."

CNBC Make It spoke to five wedding industry professionals to see how they're faring amid the coronavirus pandemic and how their work lives have changed. Interviews have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

1. Kristen Kaiser, wedding photographer

Portrait of Kristen Kaiser.

How long have you been a wedding photographer? How many weddings have you photographed?

This is my fifth year photographing weddings and elopements professionally. I lost count after photographing 50 weddings, but I'm guessing the number is somewhere in the hundreds now.

Has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your business? If so, how?

Coronavirus has definitely had a negative impact on my business. Nearly all of my spring and summer couples have either postponed their wedding or are seriously considering postponing. Wedding inquiries have also drastically dropped off during all of the uncertainty, as well as session inquiries. This is usually my busiest time of the year.

This time last year, I was shooting engagement and couples sessions a couple times a week, gearing up for weddings every weekend and booking fall weddings. Today, people aren't leaving their homes and are worried about their finances during this crisis.
Kristen Kaiser
wedding photographer

How much money would you estimate the coronavirus pandemic is causing you to lose?

It's safe to say it's been significant; certainly in the tens of thousands. Payments are being pushed back, sessions are being canceled and new inquiries are few and far between.

This time last year, I was shooting engagement and couples sessions a couple times a week, gearing up for weddings every weekend and booking fall weddings. Today, people aren't leaving their homes and are worried about their finances during this crisis. Booking a wedding or anniversary session is not exactly a priority for people right now.

What's your personal take on why this has been a particularly hard time for wedding industry professionals?

I believe it's a difficult time for wedding industry professionals for the same reason it's difficult for so many other Americans right now: It's unprecedented. This has never happened before and the uncertainty of the future is causing anxiety and taking a heavy toll on small business owners.

It's easy to get caught up in the fear of the future, but I know that in time, this will pass. My priority now is taking care of my couples, letting them know I'm here for them in any way they need and making their wedding day special, no matter what is happening in the world.

2. Gaurav Anand, wedding caterer

Portrait of Gaurav Anand.
SYPhotography

How long have you worked in the wedding industry?

I have been working for 11 years. I have three restaurants in Manhattan and a full wedding catering business. I'm a restaurateur who creates and invents recipes and ideas for innovative wedding catering worldwide and destination weddings.

How many weddings per year do you work?

Approximately 30 exclusive weddings a year in the U.S. and worldwide.

Has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your work? If so, how?

There have been a lot of wedding cancellations and postponements for weddings March through June. All of those weddings are now being scheduled for year-end. This has definitely caused a big setback for our operations.

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The months of November, December and January 2021 are now being booked up for weddings that were initially booked for this summer. This affects not only the catering industry, but every vendor related to the wedding business since our dates are usually already booked up months, if not years, in advance. There is a lot of uncertainty, anxiety and scheduling conflicts that we are working through currently, while also trying our best to put couples at ease and accommodate all of their requests. 

Because of the coronavirus, my restaurants also came to a standstill. We are still delivering food citywide so we can keep our staff employed. Most of the weddings for 2020 have been postponed indefinitely. So, yes, huge interruptions in my business. 

How do you feel about this interruption to your business?

I have mixed feelings. There will be a lot more opportunities available in 2021. I am trying to make the best of the situation by taking some personal time with my family and planning for next year. 

Has this pandemic made you feel financially or professionally insecure or worried?

Worried, of course. But I always make sure to have a backup plan — both professionally and financially. I will bounce back. I built a reputation on hard work and hopefully a few unfortunate weeks or months will not deter my course. 

3. Leslie Nilsson, wedding planner and caterer

Portrait of Leslie Nilsson.
Bartleby and Sage

How long have you worked in the wedding industry?

I've am the founder and creative director of Bartleby & Sage, a full-service corporate catering and event planning company. I've been working in the wedding industry for 22 years.

Can you describe your job?

I manage a team of salespeople, create proposals, develop new recipes, oversee all finances, purchase and build out kitchens, while also working closely with brides and grooms to plan their weddings. I work 40 to 50 weddings per year.

Has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your work? If so, how?

We've been completely shut down since mid-March. All weddings and events have been rescheduled and we have had two complete wedding cancellations.

How do you feel about this interruption to your business?

So far, we are OK because we have a line of credit and have applied for the New York City and Small Business Administration loans.

Has this pandemic made you feel financially or professionally insecure or worried?

I'm extremely worried about small businesses in general and want to help others navigate the loans and grants that are out there. In fact, I put together a spreadsheet for fellow entrepreneurs. It's posted on our website

4. Anna Longworth, wedding photographer

Portrait of Anna Longworth.
Courtesy of Anna Longworth

How long have you been a wedding photographer? How many weddings have you photographed?

I shot my first wedding in 2012. I took a break from shooting weddings full-time between 2015 and 2019 and just shot a few each year, but I am now photographing weddings and portraits full-time again. I have probably photographed 60 to 75 weddings.

Has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your business? If so, how?

Yes. All of my photoshoots outside of weddings have been canceled until at least the end of May. Thankfully, I sell prints online, so I have been able to make a little bit of income that way. Several brides and grooms have reached out about the possibility of postponing or canceling their weddings due to coronavirus. I tell them if they reschedule to a date I am available, I will definitely still be there for them. If they choose a date I am unavailable, I will happily return their deposit. It's just the right thing to do.

I think weekday and Sunday weddings will become much more popular this year due to venue availability. 
Anna Longworth
wedding photographer

Can you share an example of a problem you've faced?

Thankfully, I haven't yet had a straight-up cancellation. I had one bride set a back-up date for September that I am available for. Their back-up date is a Sunday since their venue had no Saturdays left this year. I think weekday and Sunday weddings will become much more popular this year due to venue availability. 

How much money would you estimate the coronavirus pandemic is causing you to lose?

So far, since I haven't had any wedding cancellations, probably $1,500. I am hoping that I will still be able to photograph all rescheduled weddings!

Additionally, [my fiance and I] Airbnb our home sometimes and we have had a few cancellations due to everything at the University of Illinois being cancelled for the rest of the semester, including graduation. We are missing out on roughly $2,000 there. 

Is there anything couples who have to cancel or postpone their weddings can do to make the process go more smoothly? 

I'd encourage those thinking about canceling or postponing to reach out to all of their vendors ASAP, even if they haven't made a decision yet, just to see what their policies and availability are. This is uncharted territory for everyone, so many vendors and businesses are being understanding of the unexpected circumstance we are in.

For photographers: I encourage you to refund any deposits to your couples if they end up canceling, there's enough stress for those planning their weddings to have to feel like they are flushing money down the toilet with unreturned deposits as well. 

5. Susan Cordogan, wedding planner

Portrait of Susan Cordogan.
Courtesy of Susan Cordogan

How long have you worked in the wedding industry?

I've been in the event industry for 25 years. At Big City Bride, we do about 100 events per year when adding in all the ancillary events.

Has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your business? If so, how?

The entire hospitality and event industry is suffering. Our job is based on the need for people to gather, to assemble. The COVID-19 crisis has made it unlawful to gather or assemble. So instead of planning events, we are undoing plans and have found ourselves in an unfamiliar place of pause — a holding pattern as people wait for word that it's safe to come together again. This is the first time in my 25-year career where weddings and social events are scary to attend and potentially dangerous to your health. 

We have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis directly. We had a wedding in March. The wedding took place prior to the mandatory "stay home" orders, while the details of the COVID-19 crisis were still very murky. Travel was not a factor since the couple and guests were local so they decided to proceed with the wedding. The day went off perfectly and it was a wonderful celebration. Weeks later, we learned that some of the guests and vendors had contracted the virus. 

How do you feel about this impact on your business?

It's an uncomfortable feeling since there are no answers. We mediate terms between the clients and vendors, so it's been heartbreaking from both ends. It's both disappointing for people who need to rework their event and damaging to vendors who rely on these events for income. We've rescheduled dozens of events, luckily none have canceled thus far!

This pandemic is also creating a tidal wave of weddings that will be pushed to later in 2020 and into 2021. There are obviously a limited number of Saturdays available — especially in cities like Chicago where weddings are seasonal.

This is creating unprecedented demand and competition for both vendors and venues. Also, we're starting to see that Friday and Sunday weddings are quickly becoming the new normal. We even have a wedding on a Thursday in October this year.

For now, vendors will essentially have to figure out a way to be solvent without any business for the foreseeable future.

Has the pandemic made you feel professionally or financially insecure or worried?

Weddings have historically been recession-proof. Though budgets, trends and aesthetics may change ... weddings will always go on. While this is devastating for the hospitality and event industry, those who remain solvent and steadfast will come out stronger on the other side. I have a feeling celebrations will be appreciated more than ever. 

Check out: The best credit cards of 2020 could earn you over $1,000 in 5 years

Don't miss: These smart money strategies helped a millennial couple buy their first home for $599,000

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