Couples preparing to get married had to adapt to new circumstances during the pandemic. Here, Sarah Lilley and Jacob Murdock greeted guests who could not attend their wedding through a Facebook live stream at their ceremony in Monkton, Maryland, last summer. Photo courtesy: Sarah Lilley Murdock

With pandemic restrictions gradually lifting in South Carolina, a boom in business for the wedding industry is expected in the near future. That means long delayed wedding bells for engaged couples, many of whom had to postpone or completely cancel their weddings. 

A wedding on the way

Couple posing with engagement signAnnaMarie Ringer and her fiance, Sawyer Styron, have been planning their wedding throughout the pandemic, and are looking forward to their big day on June 5. 

“Planning a wedding during the pandemic has had its positives and then some challenges as well,” said Ringer. “My mother’s health is at the forefront of my mind. She was recently diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2020 and began chemotherapy in January 2021. This means that these wedding plans must be as safe as we can make them during this time, meaning we cannot invite as many people as we would have liked to have at our big day.”  

Ringer and Styron’s reception will take place at a venue in Camden, South Carolina, which has indoor and outdoor seating. 

Despite the wedding planning challenges, the couple is excited to provide their friends and family a way to reunite for the first time since before the pandemic began. 

“It feels like such a blessing to have made it to this point in the pandemic where we can safely have a wedding and celebrate our marriage,” said Ringer. “I feel like this wedding will be a breath of fresh air for many in attendance, because many have not had an event to look forward to in over a year. It will be a celebration of many things.” 

The upcoming season

It will also be a celebration for the wedding industry, which suffered enormous losses during the pandemic. According to The Wedding Report Inc., the average spending in 2020 was down 20% from 2019, resulting in a total market loss of $30 billion. However, the industry is expecting a boom in 2021 with a surge of 650,000 weddings. 

Alexandra Madison Weddings, a wedding planning company based in Columbia, postponed all weddings for March, April and May of 2020, according to Jessica Jones, the lead planner at AMW. 

In total, the company postponed around 30 weddings that were completely planned prior to the pandemic. 

“Initially, it went straight to zero. It kind of slowly climbed back up,” said Jones. “Now, we’re hitting March, so the people who pushed their wedding back a full year – we’re doing their weddings now on top of the ones already scheduled.” 

AMW currently has the highest number of weddings the company has ever had scheduled, because the team is planning all of the postponed weddings in addition to the regularly scheduled weddings for the season, according to Jones. 

Postponements and the almost doubled number of weddings scheduled in South Carolina for the next eight months have forced wedding planners to get creative. 

“We’ve seen non-traditional dates become more popular, like Thursday weddings,” said Jones. “We’ve seen a lot more non-traditional venues, like using your backyard, or we had a wedding last weekend that was on a boat, because the traditional venues are booked out so far.” 

Communicating the necessary adjustments and restrictions for weddings proved challenging for wedding planning companies. 

“People hire a wedding planner to have the answers and solve the problems, but this is a problem that is definitely bigger than us,” said Jones. 

Jones said trying to help couples has been really sad at times. Some brides feel lucky to only have had to postpone once throughout the pandemic. 

“One of our brides has postponed her wedding four times now, because she and her family have health issues that they can’t just do it. They have to wait until it’s safer,” said Jones. “People dream of this, and especially people who almost finished planning when it hit, and now it’s been a full year since then, and they’re still not married.” 

According to Jones, AMW and most vendors that the company works closely with are completely booked for 2021, and many vendors are completely booked for 2022. 

“It’s about to definitely be crazy. Now that we’re hitting that one-year mark, we have almost a double schedule of what we would have in a normal year,” said Jones. “March through May is almost double, and then our summer is busier than it normally is… and then our October is also crazy.” 

Wedding planners were not the only ones dealing with the pandemic’s effect on weddings. 

How venues adapt 

Tom Chinn, the manager at 701 Whaley, said that in the beginning, it was a total stop in business for the Columbia venue as well as caterers and rental companies. This resulted in a significantly lower number of events hosted there. 

“Now that some people are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, we’re still getting requests for 2021, which is unusual because most brides book a year in advance,” said Chinn. “A larger percentage of our people postponed and moved, than actually canceled.” 

Other Columbia venues experienced trouble rescheduling as well. 

“It’s been pretty awful to watch the couples plan for something that they don’t know if they can have, that they don’t know is going to happen, they don’t know if they’re going to reschedule, and it’s really just been hard to watch,” said Stephanie Garman, a sales manager at 1208 Washington Place and wedding photographer. “Especially the brides to have this dream wedding planned… and then having to cut people that they want from the weddings.” 

According to Chinn, wedding guests are following COVID-19 safety guidelines by providing masks, having fewer guests and socially distancing. 

“We’re going to continue to follow [the rules]. That’s just something smart to move forward with until we really know we have this under control,” said Chinn. “I don’t consider them restrictions. I’d say they’re smart maneuvers; they’re safety maneuvers.”

Chinn expects August through November to be the venue’s busiest time this year for weddings, including postponements from the pandemic and regular bookings. 

Rescheduled weddings and those currently being planned will have more flexibility with guest lists. Last Monday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster lifted the restriction on mass gatherings in South Carolina, allowing more than 250 people to gather together outside.

As the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdown approaches, some couples who have been patiently waiting to celebrate will finally have their big day. 

Postponed big days

Columbia residents Billy Quinlan and Haven Spanyer have been together for nearly six years and got engaged in April of 2019. The original wedding was planned for June of 2020 with around 100 guests.

“We had the wedding almost fully planned around the start of 2020, so there wasn’t a lot of planning to do when the pandemic became an issue in America,” said Quinlan. “We completely postponed to June of this year.”
Quinlan said they are using the same venue and that most vendors were understanding when the couple rescheduled.
However, the decision to completely postpone was a big challenge for the couple.
“Nearly every day we found ourselves balancing new updates and guidance from the government with the need to make a decision in a timely fashion to give our guests time to adjust their plans,” said Quinlan.
Following all of the challenging circumstances, both Quinlan and Spanyer are ready to finally get married.
“We’re very excited and hopeful that we’ll still be able to have all of the friends and family that we want to have there, but won’t hesitate to shift plans if it could put people in harm’s way,” said Quinlan. “At the end of the day, regardless of what it looks like, we’ll be married and kicking off the next stage of the rest of our lives together. We’re ready!”
Some couples were persistent in getting married during the pandemic, making modifications and even some sacrifices on their big day. 

A modified ceremony

Sarah Lilley and Jacob Murdock have been together for over six years and conquered a long distance relationship from Columbia, South Carolina, to West Point, New York, due to Jacob’s military career. The couple got engaged in March of 2019 and originally planned a traditional wedding expecting 250 guests.

“I was holding on hope for as long as I possibly could, but it became very obvious that [COVID-19] was not going away any time soon… So, we decided to postpone for about a year to this summer.” 

This postponed summer wedding was supposed to be the same venue and original plan. However, then the wedding date was changed once more to May of 2020. 

The actual wedding on May 25, 2020, had 12 attendees – Sarah Lilley and Jacob Murdock, a photographer, the officiant of the ceremony, and the closest family members of the couple. 

After the wedding, the 12 attendees celebrated the newlyweds and watched the couple’s first dance in the backyard of Jacob Murdock’s house. 

“And that was it,” said Sarah Lilley Murdock. “I definitely think it was the right decision, because trying to plan something with Covid and the Army together is really, really hard.”

While the decisions to postpone for a full year and significantly limit guests were hard for Sarah Lilley Murdock, she feels thankful after considering other negative aspects of the pandemic. 

“I’m sure looking back in the big picture of things with everything else going on, I haven’t had any friends or family get really sick or die from Covid. So, in the bigger picture, I’ve been super lucky,” said Sarah Lilley Murdock. “But, I still think it’s okay to be sad.” 

Sarah Lilley Murdock said she regrets missing out of the full bridesmaids experience and photos with her grandparents, who could not be in attendance. However, she was pleased to find the location where the couple actually got married was more scenic than originally planned. 

“I’m happy with the day we had, because if we had to have a backup plan, it was as beautiful as I could have wished for,” said Sarah Lilley Murdock. 

A happy ending

Another pair of newlyweds, Nick and Danielle Samson, stayed in communication with their wedding venue, the recreational camp they met at, about the constantly changing COVID-19 restrictions. 

“We had several things change regarding restrictions leading up to the wedding date – size of groups allowed, when and where to wear masks, how the food and drinks were served,” said Nick Samson. “Trying to find the balance of restrictions to have everyone be safe but also have a good time, because not everyone’s comfort level with the virus is the same. It was tough trying to plan and think ahead to allow everyone to be comfortable and still have family and friends text or call and say they wouldn’t come.” 

The Samsons originally planned to have 230 people at their wedding and ended up with a turnout of 85. However, this was not the only challenge in planning for the newlyweds. 

“Our honeymoon to Hawaii got canceled a couple weeks before the wedding,” said Nick Samson. “We still went on a honeymoon but will try to plan something to Hawaii once things get a little more normal.” 

Despite the challenges, the couple said they wouldn’t have changed a thing about the day. 

“Married life has been a lot of fun. I remember getting back in the car leaving our wedding, and we were both so happy,” said Nick Samson. “It was literally a perfect day… Danielle was crying happy tears for days.”

The Murdocks expected 250 guests at their wedding ceremony, but only 12 could be in attendance on the big day. Photo courtesy: Sarah Lilley Murdock

Framed photos of family members who could not attend the Murdocks’ wedding were on display at the ceremony. Photo courtesy: Sarah Lilley Murdock

The Murdocks smiled behind their customized masks, marking the uniqueness of their wedding during the pandemic. Photo courtesy: Sarah Lilley Murdock

Jessica Jones, the lead planner at Alexandra Madison Weddings in Columbia, assisted by Anna Quinlan and Elizabeth Riddle, are busy now and are about to get even busier planning both postponed and regularly scheduled weddings this year. Photo by: Rachel Strieber

A calendar in the office of Alexandra Madison Weddings shows how busy the planning company was in February of 2021. Photo by: Rachel Strieber

Wedding and event venue, 701 Whaley, in Columbia is currently open to hosting indoor and outdoor weddings. Photo courtesy: 701 Whaley

701 Whaley is still getting requests to host weddings in 2021, which is unusual, because couples normally book at least one year in advance. Photo courtesy: 701 Whaley

Historic event space, 1208 Washington Place, saw an influx of wedding requests, because many couples could not find other venues to hold their desired guest capacity. Photo courtesy: 1208 Washington Place

Some couples traveled from Georgia and North Carolina to have their weddings at 1208 Washington Place, because it reopened in April of 2020, which was earlier than other venues that were shut down because of the pandemic. Photo courtesy: 1208 Washington Place

Columbia residents Billy Quinlan and Haven Spanyer celebrated their engagement on the beach in Charleston, South Carolina, in May of 2019. The couple postponed their wedding a whole year because of the pandemic. Photo courtesy: Billy Quinlan

Sawyer Styron proposed to AnnaMarie Ringer in Elgin, South Carolina, in January of 2021. Photo courtesy: AnnaMarie Ringer

AnnaMarie and Sawyer navigated challenges when carefully planning their wedding scheduled for June of 2021. AnnaMarie’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in November of 2020, so the couple took increased health and safety concerns into consideration throughout the planning process. Photo courtesy: AnnaMarie Ringer

After months of planning throughout the pandemic, Nick and Danielle Samson hosted their wedding in Asbury Hills, South Carolina, in January of 2021. Photo courtesy: Nick Samson

The Samsons were married in front of 85 of their closest friends and family. The couple originally planned for 230 guests. Photo courtesy: Nick Samson