June 1 – EAU CLAIRE – Fewer people got married in the U.S. and the Chippewa Valley last year, but over a year later, local wedding venues say they’re finally seeing couples pulling away to tie the knot this spring .
The Florian Gardens Conference Center in Eau Claire was up about 10% of its typical event schedule last year, said Dave Burke, owner and president of Florian Gardens.
It recovers over a year later. Florian Gardens have booked weddings every Friday and Saturday in both 2021 and 2022 since the end of May.
“We are currently booking for 2023,” said Burke. “We started our first wedding here about a month ago, and it’s been almost every Friday and Saturday since then. That will go on every weekend until Christmas time.”
It’s not yet a boom year for the venue – Burke said Florian Gardens usually books weddings for a year or two – but he hopes the venue will be back to 100% of its normal schedule by September or October.
“Now the phone is ringing like crazy after corporate events,” he said.
The Lismore Hotel in Eau Claire closed for two and a half months in the spring of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the state, said Cori Erickson, the hotel’s sales director. But “luckily about 85%” of their organizers chose to reschedule rather than cancel, Erickson said.
A year later, weddings at the Lismore Convention Center pick up again: “We definitely have one, if not two weddings every weekend,” said Erickson.
The hotel hasn’t booked more events than it did a year before the pandemic, but the events are “more prevalent” than usual, she said: Some people who canceled events earlier this spring have postponed a date for late 2021.
“We’re very fortunate that spring through fall weddings are pretty heavy,” said Erickson.
Florian Gardens is one of Eau Claire’s larger venues – its ballroom seats nearly 700 people – but regardless of the size of the wedding, the venue’s business stalled last March. Some couples have postponed their weddings, but dozens of corporate events have been canceled within weeks, Burke said.
The story goes on
“A place like us and a lot of other restaurants out there, we’re having a great success,” said Burke. “It was financially devastating. It’s income that you never get back … so let’s start over. To run this plant, we have to work six days a week.”
In May, the Eau Claire City-County Health Department lifted its formal expectations for large gatherings, but strongly recommends that those who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine wear masks and physically distance themselves in public places. Vaccinated people can socialize in most places without masks or social distancing, according to the health ministry.
Weddings declined during the pandemic
Several December studies found that marriages and divorces in the United States declined in 2020.
Weddings in the Chippewa Valley have slowed slightly over the past year, but not significantly.
Last year, Eau Claire County issued fewer marriage certificates than it did in 2019, but both Chippewa and Dunn counties came close to 2019 numbers, Leader Telegram reported in December.
By the end of December, Eau Claire County had issued 520 marriage certificates, about 90 fewer than in 2019.
Many Chippewa Valley couples held a discounted wedding last year instead of postponing it, Erickson said.
The rooftop cocktail bar of the Lismore Hotel on the second floor, Dive, “did very well for small weddings last year, with a cap of less than 20,” she said.
One bride had originally hoped for an extremely large wedding with several hundred guests, but ended up inviting around 30 people instead. Erickson recalled, “You had the best day and couldn’t get over how fun it was.”
Erickson and Burke recommended both couples who are still looking for a wedding venue in 2021 to consider celebrating on Friday or Sunday.
“Get it on. We’re so ready,” said Burke. “Let’s get back to business.”