Wedding season is once again a thing. Here’s how local couples do it

Natalie Griffin and Jeff Scott exchanged vows under a flower-adorned arbor last Saturday in an intimate backyard wedding very different from the big celebration they envisioned when they got engaged in December 2019.

At the time, COVID wasn’t even a consideration. The people of Napa were planning an event on May 15, 2021 for 200 guests at a private ranch in Petaluma.

But soon the coronavirus turned into a pandemic and closures began.

“We just thought it would work; we’ll keep planning because it’s going to be over before we know it, ”Griffin said. Eventually, they realized they had to postpone, settling for October 2021 for their big event.

Still, the date of May 15 has remained important to them, as it is the sixth anniversary of their first date. “We always wanted this weekend to be our weekend,” she said.

Friends offered to have a small garden wedding with only close friends and immediate family, including two grandmothers in the late 1980s.

“We were able to enjoy the moment,” Griffin said. “We missed our family, friends and other loved ones who weren’t there, but knowing we have a second chance to celebrate with them in October eased the stress.”

Like them, many engaged couples have coped with the pandemic by hosting a small wedding that was followed by a big blowout when circumstances permitted, while others simply postponed their nuptials.

Now that restrictions are easing and weddings are regaining their pre-pandemic sparkle, many Bay Area couples are preparing to waltz down the aisle.

“There is certainly a sigh of relief with our current climate,” said Alex Quintana, owner of an eponymous event planning business in Oakland. “It feels like the joy and excitement are returning.”

Natalie Griffin puts a wedding ring on Jeff Scott in Napa. The two got married in the backyard of a friend’s house.

Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

About half of couples who had planned weddings in 2020 held small-scale ceremonies with pandemic-era touches like Zoom, often with plans for post-pandemic parties, according to surveys from The Knot, a resource. online wedding planning. The other half of couples in 2020 have postponed their big days. Now they are getting ready to go to the altar.

“As a result, there is a wedding boom this year,” said Esther Lee, editor-in-chief of The Knot.

Oakland wedding planner Chanda Daniels from A Monique Affair, sees the results on the ground. “There is a great rush; it’s lit and glowing and we’re all so happy, ”she said. “It’s like a double season.”

Competition for sites and sellers is tight. Some couples opt for weekday weddings and choose smaller local venues to cope. Courtyard weddings, which out of necessity became prominent last year, remain a popular option, Lee said.

And COVID protocols are evolving. Spring weddings stay smaller and all outdoors with socially distant dispositions. Daniels said some couples may offer rapid on-site testing and use apps that allow clients to show proof of vaccination or a negative test.

Currently, California has limits on collection sizes, based on where a county is on the state color-coded map. But couples planning weddings after the state reopens on June 15 hope there won’t be any limits.

“People want to come together again,” said Meredith Monday Schwartz, CEO of Here Comes the Guide, an online resource for finding wedding venues. “As we recover, we feel a roaring 1920s energy of travel and hospitality.”

Bay Area counties have seen a dramatic drop in the number of couples seeking marriage licenses starting in March, according to the California Department of Public Health. This year the numbers are starting to increase.

San Francisco City Hall, whose stately elegance has hosted countless couples, will resume in-person weddings on June 9; Thursday, 505 couples had reserved slots.

“We really want to see people embrace the city come back to life and that’s a really good indicator of that,” said Joaquin Torres, San Francisco Rater. “We need joy now.”

Yet, with the pandemic continuing, there are additional challenges in planning and executing a wedding. Here’s how some local couples wondered how to dedicate their love during the coronavirus era.

Nicole Burns and Bernier Lauredan Jr. had to postpone their wedding and look for a new location.

Nicole Burns and Bernier Lauredan Jr. had to postpone their wedding and look for a new location.

Curry Courtright

Nicole & Bernier: in search of the perfect place

Oakland residents Nicole Burns and Bernier Lauredan Jr. got engaged in December 2018 and planned a September 2020 wedding at a Morgan Hill vineyard and theater. On Memorial Day last year, they realized that “it was obvious that it was not improving” and decided to postpone until October 2021.

But then a new wrinkle appeared: A few months ago, the owner of the theater told them that the space had been converted into a restaurant with a terrace and would no longer host weddings.

The search for the place was launched again. “The problem was that we were starting over in November 2020 to plan a wedding in 2021 and most venues only had three or four dates,” she said. “They had all the couples from 2020 who postponed more than 2021.”

On a Thanksgiving trip to Los Angeles, they found a Malibu vineyard that felt perfect – and had an opening in October. The entire event will be outdoors in keeping with their Midsummer’s Day night dream theme, “very romantic ethereal vibe,” she said.

Incorporating their black heritage is a priority for the couple, including broom-jumping and Kompa music from Haiti, in honor of Lauredan’s legacy.

For now, they’ve reduced their guest list and plan to have rapid on-site testing available for all guests who weren’t vaccinated, to keep tables six feet apart and to offer hand disinfection stations.

“You’re just trying to stay firm on your vision,” Burns said. “I put my faith in God.”

Tara & John: postponing the date means more guests

Lafayette residents Tara Shirakh and John Moran were due to tie the knot on August 8 last year – the same date her grandparents got married. In April, they realized they had to postpone until this spring, but during the outbreak of the pandemic late last year, they postponed it yet again, to September 4.

Waiting that long will allow them to have their original 170 guests and an 18-person bridal party.

“With more and more people getting vaccinated, by then everyone will feel more comfortable with dancing, cuddling, things like that,” Shirakh said.

Dinner will be prepared rather than a buffet. Salad Oliver, a traditional Persian dish that everyone chooses from a dish, is not possible.

But they could include a traditional Persian ceremony in which bridesmaids hold a sheet over their heads, while married women grind sugar on them to spread sweetness in their marriage. “It’s a really cool tradition and now we’ll be comfortable bringing it in,” she said.

Gigi Ramos and Mark Kelley got engaged at Disneyland over Valentine's Day weekend 2019 - then stopped by to try and plan their wedding.

Gigi Ramos and Mark Kelley got engaged at Disneyland over Valentine’s Day weekend 2019 – then stopped by to try and plan their wedding.

Gigi ramos

Gigi & Mark: coping with the aftermath of COVID

Gigi Ramos and Mark Kelley live in Fresno but want a San Francisco wedding in honor of his late mother, who loved the city. Right after their engagement on Valentine’s Day weekend at Disneyland last year, the couple started planning an October 2020 wedding – then slap-dabed in the middle of closing.

So they postponed until October 2021. They have moved into Shakespeare’s Garden in Golden Gate Park for the ceremony and are turning to food trucks for a non-traditional reception.

Both fell with COVID in January. They still face sequelae. Ramos suppressed his symptoms: “Daily headache, dizziness, difficulty catching my breath, chest pain, major fatigue.” A distorted sense of smell makes food taste like rotten meat, which meant that cake tasting was prohibited. She’s practicing smells to try to rewire her brain.

Now she is afraid that these problems will ruin her wedding day. “I don’t want to have to lean on someone to get up,” she said. “I want to stay strong and look like I survived this pandemic and have happiness forever.”

Amie Johnson and Andrew Garcia had a small wedding outside Laguna Beach Town Hall on May 1 and are planning a big, vibrant wedding for March 2022.

Amie Johnson and Andrew Garcia had a small wedding outside Laguna Beach Town Hall on May 1 and are planning a big, vibrant wedding for March 2022.

Jenny Smith & Co.

Amie & Andrew: Two weddings, big and small

After 10 years together, San Francisco locals Amie Johnson, 29, and Andrew Garcia, 30, had a fabulous wedding: 160 guests at a trendy downtown LA venue, a big dance floor, a bar integrated, fun and lively environment.

They got engaged in the fall of 2019, so they had plenty of time to plan the May 1, 2021 wedding. As the pandemic progressed, they were hoping to keep that date, but in the fall of 2020 they realized that might not be realistic. At the same time, the pandemic made them realize that the legal status of formal marriage really matters to them.

So they decided to keep their original wedding date, but to have a small outdoor gathering.

“If you had told me a few years ago that I would have a civil ceremony with 20 people, I would have said you were out of your mind; it’s not me and Andrew, we’re little social butterflies and have big families, ”Johnson said.

The San Francisco couple were hitched up on May 1 outside Laguna Beach City Hall with their immediate family and six friends; everyone had at least one dose of the vaccine. Then they had dinner on the private outdoor terrace of a restaurant.

But they didn’t give up on their dream party. The big event will take place on March 5, 2022, with the big white dress. For their little ceremony, the couple chose hot pink as their signature color – in a satin suit for her and dress pants for him.

“If this is the worst thing that happens to us in the pandemic, we are so lucky,” Johnson said. “People say, ‘I’m so sorry,’ but I’m like, ‘I can still have the wedding of my dreams and get married twice – so much fun.'”

Carolyn Said is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @csaid

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