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Here comes the bride? Not so fast during the pandemic in Flagstaff
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Here comes the bride? Not so fast during the pandemic in Flagstaff

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They were married in the sterile, but judicious, environs of the Coconino County Courthouse — nary a flower in sight and certainly no harpist plucking Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” — and then had their reception in socially distanced drive-in parking spaces at Sonic burger.

My, what a lavish and memorable wedding for Flagstaff couple Rachel Parisi and Avery Edenhofer.

Well, memorable, at least.

Thanks to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus and the domino effect of closures in unleashed throughout the state, nation and world, the couple’s grand plan for their Aug. 8 nuptials had to be scrapped.

No plighting their troth amid the fragrant ponderosa pines in the woods next to the Mormon Lake Lodge. No fancy wedding dress and tuxedo and a passel of smartly clad bridesmaids. No gathering of 60 or so family and friends, many from out of state, to witness the occasion. No reception at the lodge’s Town Hall building, with a DJ spinning tunes and people making toasts. No brisket for the main course, no cake to cut, no garter flinging. None of that.

And as for that planned honeymoon in Cozumel, well, holing up at home in Flagstaff would have to do.

“At first I was pretty hopeful we could have it,” Parisi said. “Then the whole city shuts down and I’m like, ‘OK, we’ve got to cancel.’ I was in tears. We had put a lot of hard work and money into it. I was heartbroken for a few days, but then we decided there was no sense waiting any longer, so we went to the courthouse.”

Spring and summer weddings everywhere have been affected by the COVID-19 shutdown, and Flagstaff-area couples have been scrambling to either reschedule ceremonies for autumn or beyond, decide to elope and hold a “celebration” party at a later date or fall back on the readily available, if unromantic, justice of the peace, as Parisi and Edenhofer did.

What’s more, the sudden dearth of public gatherings for vow exchanging has hit the wedding industrial complex pretty hard. Wedding planners, suddenly, have nothing to plan. Photographers, nobody to shoot. DJs, no dancers to spin tunes for. Caterers, florists, bakers — all have seen a drop in business as precipitous as the bouquet falling from the sky into a sea of hopeful hands.

Wedding vendors struggle

Couples have either lost parts of deposits or had them extended to a new date in 2021. Businesses are not seeing the balance of the bills and also are not getting new clients, since the uncertainty is such that no one wants to make a firm commitment on big weddings and grand receptions.

“It’s definitely not easy,” said Flagstaff wedding photographer Hannah Gray. “I’m still getting paid for all of these weddings, they’re just now at a later date. What’s not happening is that no one’s booking new weddings. So, right now, I’m not making my normal deposits for weddings or other sessions — like, engagements, elopements, receptions, whatever. It’s uncomfortable because all of us live on this money.”

Before getting grounded, Gray’s wedding gig itinerary for May had her flying to Denver, Napa, Puerto Vallarta, Boston and France to shoot weddings. Now, she’s cooling her heels locally, waiting things out.

She certainly has company.

Bear Cole, manager of Peaks ProEvents Services, which provides DJs, lighting and audio and photo booth set ups for weddings, is finding himself and this posse of independent contractor DJs twiddling their thumbs on weekends when they’d usually be hopping between gigs.

“We have no weddings until September,” he said. “We sometimes have eight weddings in a weekend, so having zero now is pretty strange. We’ve had to step back and not go all the way dormant, but pretty close. I’m working on some new ones for next year.”

The lockdown has hit Cole’s company hard. It generated most of its revenue in spring and summer.

“We already have a drought during the winters, where you’re just trying to get some gigs down in Phoenix or wherever,” he said. “Then to have that drought extend all the way to September — maybe longer — is tough. We were just about to start our prom work (in April) and then graduation, another big time for us, but no. The timing was terrible.”

Cole hasn’t been completely idle, though. He has fielded lots of calls from anxious couples.

“A lot of them were in panic mode at first,” Cole said. “I’d be getting contacted by five different family members all working on the same wedding, all not communicating between themselves. Now, it’s calmed down.

“Almost all the wedding professionals I know are trying to help couples as much as possible. A lot of times, the change of date or venue could come with additional fees but we’re trying to waive that whenever possible. It’s definitely a strange time to be in the wedding business, but I think a lot of people that do what we do are diversified.”

That’s the case with area florists. Kelly Tulloss, of Sutcliffe Florist in Flagstaff, said every single order she had for weddings in April and May were canceled. June’s not looking too great, either. The cancellation of proms and Northern Arizona University’s graduation, as well as the downsizing of funerals, also proved to be financial blows.

But …

“On a positive note,” Tulloss said, “our community is amazing. Because people can’t be around their loved ones, they are sending flowers. We’re delivering very safely. Drop flowers directly at doorstep. We’ve been able to stay afloat. People just want to send something that says they’ve been thinking about them. So we’ve been really busy with daily orders.”

Here comes the bride ... someday

But brides and grooms, forced to abandon their elaborate plans, aren’t so sanguine.

Rachel de Jesus and Sam Williams, both Flagstaff High School teachers, had planned a June 12 wedding at the Nordic Ski Center, with a reception at the Weatherford Hotel. Then the pandemic took hold.

“None of our vendors were telling us to quit, but we were just kind of having a feeling that things didn’t look so good,” de Jesus said of her decision to pull the plug. “We have a lot of loved ones in health care profession who wouldn’t be able to go. (Sam) has family in Atlanta, and I have a bunch of family on the East Coast, so there was the travel issue. Then it looked like our honeymoon (to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and other Asian locales) would be canceled.

“We wanted to make the decision sooner, rather than a week or two before (the June 12 wedding), to give people time to change plans. We were bummed (to postpone) but if we had waited, it would’ve been more disappointing and we might have lost a ton of money. Today, I’m happy about the decision.”

The couple now will marry on June 12, 2021 — exactly a year to the day of the original date. The pair has taken the delay in stride and even with humor. Sending out an updated “Save the Date” notice, they decided to pose in the woods wearing masks and surgical gloves. Williams is shown down on one knee, holding a Corona beer bottle and proffering an eight-pack of toilet paper to an ecstatic de Jesus.

Even more patient in waiting has been Sara Diaz and Miguel Longoria. They’ve been a couple for 10 years and had planned their April 25 wedding, with an expected 200 guests, since 2018. But when their venue provider called in March to say it had to close, but had a date open on Aug. 1, they reluctantly agreed. Now, Longoria says the couple might have to wait longer, until spring of 2021.

“It all has to do when things get back to normal,” Longoria said. “We were frustrated. We had our invitations sent. (Diaz) had her dress ready and bridesmaid dresses. All that stuff. It was going to be a big wedding, too.”

They considered eloping — but only briefly.

“We figured that we’ve waited so long, 10 years, let’s do this the right way,” Longoria said. “What’s another year?”

Cassandra and John Panza, however, could not wait. They saw their April 19 wedding date at the Groom Creek Schoolhouse in Prescott look more and more unlikely. Rather than cancel, though, the couple carried on. The guest list dwindled from 50 to nine (including bride and groom) and Cassandra's dad "walked her down the aisle" via Facebook Video. 

"When we first made the decision to cancel our wedding, I was devastated and cried for about a week straight but after being talked off my ledge we decided to try to make it work," Cassandra said. "While this was not the wedding we planned and planned and planned, it is one that many people will remember for a long time to come."

As for Parisi and Edenhofer, who chose the courthouse option, they still plan what Parisi calls “a real wedding” at some point. But because of COVID-19 job loss, the couple has had to spend much of the money saved for the wedding to pay bills.

For now, Parisi’s wedding dress is hanging in her in-law’s closet. She considers the courthouse ceremony merely a prelude.

“We always talked about the moment where he saw me walk down the aisle and how (Avery) would cry,” she said. “At the courthouse, it’s not romantic. The guy’s reading off a script that he reads to everyone. Literally, it’s the most unromantic thing ever. But Avery cried anyway.”

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Feature Writer

Sam McManis is an Arizona Daily Sun features writer and the author of two books: “Running to Glory: An Unlikely Team, A Challenging Season and Chasing the American Dream" and “Crossing California: A Cultural Topography of a State of Wonder and Weirdness.”

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