'Absolutely hope for 2021': Wedding industry workers remain optimistic

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- If you know someone who was planning to get married in 2020, then you likely know someone who was disappointed.

But if you think couples were dismayed by the pandemic, imagine how those people who feed their families through the wedding industry must have felt.

"Everything just came to a screeching halt and really just wiped out the entire year," events planner Erin McLean said.

The Wake County woman's primary business is weddings.

It is an industry that according to research firm IBIS World, brought nearly $70 billion in revenue to the U.S. market in 2019.

The research firm noted that during the past decade, the wedding industry peaked at $85 billion in 2016.

IBIS World shows those figures nosedived in 2020 to just over $55 billion.

In an interesting note about the industry, IBIS world, writes on its website, "This industry has no major players with a market share of greater than 5%."

That means most of the businesses affected were small businesses such as McLean's.

By the time the shutdown arrived in March 2020, she had already booked what was shaping up to be one of her biggest years for events.

It was all canceled.

She used the downtime to develop a business she had been considering for a while, an online do-it-yourself wedding service called The Virtual Wedding Planner.

It teaches couples how to organize their own wedding at a fraction of the cost of hiring an in-person planner.

"We're able to reach a lot more couples and it's been really great. The response has been wonderful. And we've been able to bring in income that way," McLean said. She added that though 2021 is still uncertain, 2022 holds great promise.

"I think weddings are going to come back with a boom ... at least I'm optimistic in that way," she said.

She said she expects that weddings in 2021 will likely be smaller affairs.

"It's not going to be a banner year for sure. Certainly, just because we're not, didn't have the capacity to book more clients so most of our clients with the exception of maybe one or two are just carryovers from 2020," she said.

Cara Powell, a wedding photographer who is restoring a landmark home near Apex for use as a wedding venue, is more optimistic about 2021.

"There is absolutely hope for weddings in 2021," Powell told ABC11 on the porch of the Upchurch-Williams house.

The restoration of the old home and transformation of five surrounding acres into an events venue would have been nearly done by now if it weren't for the pandemic.

"We're actually running about six months behind. We were supposed to break ground in October, and now we're not breaking ground till April 1," she said, and she added that during the pandemic she stuck with photography to help survive the pandemic.

And now, she's hopeful that 2021 will offer enough opportunity to stem the tide of small wedding businesses closing their doors.

"If wedding vendors can hang on, they really need to try to hang on because I think that we're just gonna have a blowout year this year," Powell said.

Powell and McLean both said they believe the wedding industry is definitely on its way back but said a lot of couples who still want a big affair with lots of people have decided to delay until 2022.

Powell said the pent-up demand could even grow the industry by attracting new vendors.

"There's just such a space for people to open new businesses and new venues in 2022 because there's going to be such a high demand," she said.
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