Lisa Sturgeon, owner of Getting Married in Maine, officiates at the wedding of Jessica and Dana Blakeley in Bar Harbor in May. Credit: Courtesy of Haley Hallee Photos

Kami Rivera’s then-fiance, Ruzzo, swept her off her feet with a proposal in Paris in early 2020. But the pair’s dreams of a destination wedding or a large venue event were quickly dashed when the pandemic began weeks later.

Eighteen months after their engagement, they were married at their home in June of this year. As they planned their wedding over the winter and spring of 2021, their guest list was limited to 100 people, including vendors, due to Maine’s gathering restrictions. But when restrictions were lifted on May 24, they managed to invite extra people at the last minute.

“Everyone seemed to be really understanding that these are the times we’re in,” said Rivera, who lives in Frankfort. “We took the time to plan it right. In a world that’s super chaotic, we wanted to do something where everyone felt comfortable and safe. And we were really lucky that almost everyone could get vaccinated in time.”

The pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into nearly every plan over the past 17 months, especially weddings and other large gatherings. Many weddings that were supposed to be held in 2020 were either canceled, postponed or downsized significantly due to gathering restrictions and safety concerns. Weddings that did happen — such as an infamous, 62-guest celebration on Aug. 7, 2020, in the Katahdin region where guests didn’t wear masks or stay socially distanced — ran the risk of sparking a virus outbreak.

This year, however, the wedding industry in Maine is back with a vengeance — albeit with many of the same concerns and precautions that were present in 2020. Rebooking and scheduling challenges continue, along with newfound worries about the dangerous delta variant of COVID-19 and accommodating a crowd of vaccinated and unvaccinated guests.

“Almost anybody who is planning a wedding for summer or fall of 2021 has been planning it since long before the regulations were lifted in May,” said Lisa Sturgeon, who owns Getting Married in Maine, a wedding planning company in Bangor. “You’ve already developed contingency plans. You’ve already been thinking about these things. We’ve been in this for over a year now. None of this is new.”

While fewer people were married last year, weddings still happened. But their smaller scale made for a challenging year for Maine’s billion-dollar wedding industry.

“Where you really saw the effect was in the luxury market, and at big venues meant for 200-person weddings,” Sturgeon said. “People still got married, but many of them eloped, or they had it in their backyard with 20 people. It didn’t affect, say, a photographer, in the same way it affected a venue or a caterer.”

Lisa Sturgeon (right), a wedding planner, and her assistant, Jill Whynot, at a wedding in June in Yarmouth. Credit: Courtesy of Getting Married in Maine

The ability to adapt to changes and roll with the punches is key to planning a wedding during a pandemic. Mariah Hughes and her fiance, Stephen Cormier, both of Bangor, got engaged in August 2020. Originally, they were planning a September 2021 wedding, but as they began reaching out to vendors it became apparent that booking for 2021 would be a challenge.

“The vendors we wanted were just not available for 2021. People are double-booked. Everybody was kind of scrambling to rebook from 2020,” Hughes said. “We just decided to push it to 2022 because we didn’t want to rush it or not get what we want. We’re getting married in June 2022, and I’m really glad we made that decision.”

Sturgeon said that staffing can also be a challenge when trying to book vendors, especially caterers. Like many restaurants, catering companies have struggled to find enough employees.

Well more than a year into it, weddings aren’t the only events made more complicated by the pandemic.

Libby, a Waldo County resident who asked that her last name not be used as her event is a surprise for her parents, is planning a party in late August for about 45 people, many of whom are driving or flying in from all over the country. The party will be both indoors and outdoors, and she and her family will make sure there is room for social distancing at the event.

“There’s a lot of mental gymnastics that go on with planning an event during COVID,” she said. “There are a few people coming that we know are not vaccinated, and I was worried they’d be offended if we asked them to wear a mask for the party, but I was really pleased that they said they’d be happy to wear a mask.”

Making sure guests are vaccinated or wearing masks can be a tricky situation to manage. In some social and familial circles, all or most guests being vaccinated may be a forgone conclusion. For others, not as much.

“We feel really lucky that we’re pretty certain most of the people we’d be inviting will be vaccinated, and that it will be an outdoor ceremony,” Hughes said. “With the new variants, I haven’t really been concerned about what that will mean for us since it’s still pretty far in the future, but it’s definitely always in the back of my mind, especially given the past couple weeks. That’s why I’m really glad we moved the date.”

As the past few weeks have shown, the pandemic isn’t over yet. Though vaccines offer invaluable protection, precautions are still necessary when planning any large gathering. Rivera said it’s important to remember what’s really important, regardless of how many people might be gathered together or if they have to wear masks.

“You have a duty to yourself and your guests to plan a safe event for them. You just have to have that kind of attitude about it,” Rivera said. “You can be all negative about what you weren’t allowed to do, or you can celebrate your love. The choice is yours.”

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.