The weddings are coming.
The long-awaited fourth phase of the state's reopening plan starts Monday, March 22. Public gathering limits will increase from 10 to 100 for indoor gatherings and from 50 to 150 outdoors. That means wedding venues and function halls — which have been severely limited in the events they could host since the start of the pandemic one year ago — can move toward holding more traditional celebrations again. While some couples scaled back their grander plans for more intimate ceremonies, many others just hit pause on their big day to ride out the pandemic.
"A year into this, most couples are wanting to move forward and adapt their weddings," said Sarah Narcus, co-owner of Olio in Peabody. "There's just no guarantee of when things will be, quote-unquote, 'normal.' The couple that, last spring and summer, postponed it for this spring and summer...they aren't going to postpone again on the most part. They're going to embrace where they are and adapt to where we are in this moment. The difference between a pre-pandemic wedding and a wedding now is really small."
That's because there are other elements to a typical celebration that will also be allowed again Monday — most notably dancing, which has been a prohibited activity up to this point, according to Narcus.
"We haven't been allowed to have dancing for over a year now," she said. "Things will really start to feel a lot more like a, quote-unquote, 'normal' wedding, because when you go to a wedding, you expect to eat, drink and dance."
As a result, the rush is on to book events.
"Whether folks are booking with us or are looking somewhere else, I'd suggest they reserve a date with a venue now, because our phones are off the hook booking for the spring and summer," said Joe DeLorenzo, a manager at Danversport, a popular destination for weddings, proms and other large-scale celebrations. "It's everything from bridal showers to baby showers, celebrations of life for someone who passed away in the past year. We're seeing a lot of that, and it's exciting for us to be able to do it.
"We're getting calls for all sorts of events that couldn't happen — even birthday parties. We've done quinceaneras that have become sweet 16s," DeLorenzo said. "Everything has just been delayed one year, really."
At the historic Smith Barn, next to Brooksby Farm, in Peabody, it's been more than a year since they've held any weddings. The rustic barn, which is owned by the Peabody Historical Society, last held an event December 2019 — it's normally closed every winter season. By the time they would've reopened last April, the pandemic had already shut down the region.
"We've been doing weddings since 1990. We average about 100 weddings a year, and our last event was held on Dec. 4 of 2019. Last year, we had to move or cancel 101 weddings," said Tammy Messina, the events manager. "This year, we're very excited — our first wedding will be held the first weekend in May. We're looking forward to it."
But other venues have some complicated logistics to deal with. At the House of the Seven Gables in Salem, for instance, there are several competing capacity limits to reconcile for the Gables as it operates on multiple fronts: retail, events, office space, the museum, and more. For the time being, there will still be no indoor weddings.
"Many of our 2021 weddings are weddings that were postponed from last year. Most of our couples at this point have proactively downsized their wedding already. I think most of our weddings are still around the 50-person mark," said Julie Arrison-Bishop, community engagement director at the House of the Seven Gables. "I imagine we'll start taking bookings for those (indoor weddings) again in 2022."
That isn't to say any of the weddings moving forward in the coming months will be large. Many families who are planning events are still keeping numbers down.
"Everybody's more forgiving, and people are more understanding when it comes to stuff like this. At the end of the day, an older generation doesn't want to go to an event with 100 people," Messina said. "I have a client coming up, and her aunt is older — she said, 'I don't want to go to the reception, but I want to go to the ceremony to see you outside."
In cases like that, a ceremony that can now draw 100 people may drop to below 80 guests for the reception, according to Messina.
"The capacity is the biggest (issue), and then the dancing is next," DeLorenzo said. "Folks also aren't eager to have masks in all their wedding pictures — just the aesthetics of that, being labeled as a COVID couple."
But then other couples are OK with that.
"There's a cake cutting, and there's a first dance. There's a ceremony, photos, an amazing meal," Narcus said. "This is a wedding in all senses of the word — it just looks a little different than it did a year before."