I do (Maybe?): Couples, vendors concerned about Lake Tahoe weddings

Kayla Anderson
Tahoe Daily Tribune

Every part of the Lake Tahoe wedding industry has been affected due to COVID-19.

Wedding vendors share their challenges, concerns, and course of action in dealing with the pandemic.

VILD Photography

Marie-Louise “M” Palmqvist, owner of VILD Photography, is feeling the effects of her wedding photography business as we go into Day 50 or so of the shelter-in-place order.

Previously living in South Lake Tahoe and now residing in Carson City, 99% of her wedding business is at the lake. But due to COVID-19, her business has slowed way down as weddings get pushed back into 2021.

“We’re lucky that we didn’t have a lot planned in March and April but now we’re going into May and couples are starting to get more worried. We’re seeing a lot of people start to postpone or cancel,” Palmqvist says.

What has been VILD Photography’s saving grace is that couples tend to book their weddings at least a year out, and so their bookings for 2021 haven’t been affected yet. However, the couples that have their Tahoe weddings planned for June, July, and even this month are starting to get frantic.

“We’re starting to see 2020 couples postponing their events into 2021 and so next year’s calendar is beginning to fill up,” she says.

Therefore, VILD Photography began adding a rescheduling fee to help them stay afloat.

“We do have couples who are sticking to their date and hanging in there, and a couple of May weddings that are a little tricky,” she says, suggesting that May wedding couples go to the courthouse to get their marriage license and then figure out with their vendors, where and how to have a ceremony.

Working in both California and Nevada also poses a unique set of challenges as they try to stay compliant with the various regulations that are constantly changing.

“It’s all a big puzzle and we’re all trying to find a way to make it work,” Palmqvist says. “Some places in Nevada to get marriage licenses have opened but most of California is still closed. And June couples are starting to ask questions about what they can do, but it’s really hard to answer them because no one knows.

“Right now, we’re putting a lot of backup plans in place — Plan B, Plan C, and D — for couples,” Palmqvist added. “Can couples get married in the woods and still keep everyone six feet apart? Is that even legal? No one knows. It’s stressful for them and every situation is so unique. We have one couple that has been planning their wedding for two years and now they just postponed it again until 2021.”

Palmqvist believes that the Tahoe Unveiled wedding planning platform and vendor guide has been a great resource for the local wedding industry to come together and troubleshoot the ongoing challenges, adding, “We’re just taking it day by day, trying to follow the rules and regulations, and all trying to survive while helping our clients achieve these life goals.”

Tahoe Unveiled

Over at Tahoe Unveiled, founder Stephanie Martin (who also runs RUNE and One Fine Day Events) is acutely aware of the struggling wedding industry.

“We’re seeing that everything from April through June has been postponed until later this year or next year. It’s hard for couples because they have a vision of how their special day would look and that has all changed,” Martin says.

With 99% of vendors being small business owners, they are vigorously shifting gears in reaction to the COVID-19 shutdowns. Martin suspects that vendors are losing 50-75% of their regular revenue.

“It’s challenging for them to try to move forward. I’ve been working with members to try to send out positive messages to couples, and we’re constantly asking couples to trust their vendors and continue working with them,” she says.

To help, Tahoe Unveiled began hosting Instagram Live chats highlighting different vendors every week.

“One florist is doing Mother’s Day arrangement deliveries and she has dropped arrangements off to bakeries to sell to customers,” she says, noting that most wedding vendors have had to pivot very quickly to stay alive. “Some haven’t figured out how to do that yet, but others have gotten creative.”

In her own business, Martin believes she’s down 75% in revenues but is optimistic about Tahoe rebounding once businesses can get open again.

“I think it’s going to be a strong September and October,” she says.

When asked when there’s a particular sector within the wedding industry that is being affected the most, Martin says no. COVID-19 has affected everyone including: photographers, rental companies, catering companies, hair/makeup artists, officiants, transportation companies, bartenders, musicians, florists, videographers, and even invitation companies that didn’t get their orders out before events were canceled.

“I know one wholesale farm that threw away hundreds of thousands of dollars in flowers,” Martin adds.

Around for 10 years, Tahoe Unveiled has 63 members who are part of the Tahoe wedding business. She says that sadly some Tahoe Unveiled members will probably not survive through the pandemic and Tahoe Unveiled is trying to prevent that as much as possible. However, there will also be a lot of money lost in tourism related to the wedding industry as well.

“An average wedding is 150 people who spend money on hotels, Airbnb’s, and summer activities like kayaking and boating. This is going to be a huge hit to the local economy. It’s scary looking to the future,” Martin says.

She’s trying her best to stay optimistic, though, and encourages her vendors to do the same. “I’m trying to get through it by finding positive ways to reflect on this time, like having the opportunity to spend more time with my family. I have two young kids and it can be difficult working from home, but I also have more time with them than I ever had before.

“And the silver lining in all of this is that we’re all in this together. People have really rallied around to help each other, and it’s been refreshing to see how many people have opened their doors to work with their competitors and fellow vendors.

Her final word of advice is for couples, though.

“For couples that are getting married this year and playing the waiting game, I encourage them to be patient, especially with their vendors, and understand that they’re all trying to figure out how to help them have their special day,” she said.

She says that vendors are working around the clock re-planning people’s weddings, and couples’ continued support is crucial to get through this.

“Couples should consider splitting up payments with their vendors, leave them positive reviews, just stay with them. COVID-19 is impacting everyone and we’re all trying our best to give couples their special day,” Martin says.

Valhalla Tahoe

As a historic arts and culture site, Valhalla Tahoe is known for its lakeside Boathouse Theatre, beautifully kept grounds, and a main lodge that doubles as a wedding venue.

Valhalla hosts between 40-70 weddings a year normally, but like everyone else, their numbers are down, and revenues affected as premier Lake Tahoe wedding venues stay closed.

“With the news of the global pandemic back in March, I started talking to couples with May/June 2020 weddings about how it would affect their wedding day,” says Valhalla Operations and Sales Manager Michelle Morton.

As the pandemic spread throughout California, she started letting people know that they could postpone their event up to 365 days from their booked date, but now she is working individually with couples to determine the right course of action as the pandemic drags on.

Whether she thinks that Valhalla can resume wedding business this summer, Morton says, “I consider July and August to be on the bubble. I put together a plan for Valhalla to coincide with the four stages of the governor’s reopening. Going into the second phase, we want to start cleaning up the site, which we haven’t done yet. On May 15 we’re hoping to open for a small crew to rake leaves and pine needles, start getting the site ready.

“We’re waiting on what direction the governor decides to go, but my understanding is that we are in the ‘Social Club’ category of business that would open in Phase 4,” she added. “Between the Forest Service and the state, their guidelines will then help us evolve our plan to reopen with modifications. With the talk of reopening, we’re discussing what kinds of modifications need to take place for their event to still be what they want.”

Many couples are concerned about whether they can still have their wedding in Lake Tahoe and how to have their families and friends present.

Morton says that Valhalla doesn’t book too many July weddings anyways which helps, so they are cautiously moving May/June weddings into that month and into the fall. But there are a lot of unknowns across the board about what is going to happen.

“There’s a lot of hurry up and wait, and that has been really hard for couples because they have other vendors they’re working with, they’ve put down deposits,” she says.

Couples are worried and asking a lot of questions that wedding planners and event coordinators just don’t have the answers to.

“Will everyone have to wear masks? Will everyone have to stand six feet apart? How do you do dancing? How do you serve food?” are just a few of the questions.

“When I talk to couples about postponement I try to help them understand that if they wait a year to get married then they will have a better chance of having the ceremony that they envision rather than trying to do it now with modifications,” she says.

But as a wedding sales manager who loves showing off the Valhalla venue and booking dates, it’s hard to deal with an abrupt end to her livelihood.

“It’s emotional, I thrive on booking business and am invested in these couples’ special days. To see all that business drop off completely is hard,” she says.

However, Morton believes that the key to get through this is to stay knowledgeable on the regulations, create malleable plans, and figure out how Valhalla can adapt to provide services that people need and want.

“Hopefully everyone can hang on,” she said, “and we’ll all celebrate again next year.”

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