How the wedding industry in Asheville, North Carolina, survived during the COVID-19 pandemic

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Asheville, North Carolina's vibrant wedding industry is bringing in romance -- and brought in more than $47 million in revenue in 2019.

"We do a lot of destination weddings," said Shay Brown of Shay Brown Events. "We have people come to Asheville from all over wanting to host their weddings. You have everything from the Blue Ridge Mountains to venues pretty much on every corner."

But when the pandemic struck last March, the industry hit a standstill -- impacting business owners like Tom and Charlene Pagano, founders of JuneBug Retro Resort.

"We had probably 35 weddings booked and probably half of them canceled at some point," Charlene said. "And then the other ones postponed so we had no events in 2020 at all."

Their vintage campers have become a unique option and, once restrictions eased, they opened a magical treehouse for couples like Alan and Laurel Hampel.

They had the micro-wedding of their dreams.

"There was really no question in our minds whether or not we were going to get married, it was more the ability to include people that we loved and wanting them here with us," Laurel said. "I always pictured getting married by a tree but I get to get married in the trees now! And that's just my dream come true."

"We have 61 weddings this year," Tom Pagano said. "So we're running as fast as we can to keep up with it."

Brown manages 12 different venues in Asheville and saw so many of her partners struggling in the last year.

"We knew that the people in the hospitality industry lived paycheck to paycheck, and we knew that they needed support," she said.

So Brown and a team of volunteer launched an initiative called Asheville Strong to uplift and give back to their community, handing out more than 33,000 meals to those in need.

"We had restaurants step up to produce the food, we had farmers deliver product, we had the community calling to help volunteer," she said. "Asheville strong exemplifies the giving community, and the closeness of our community of Asheville."
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