Wedding, special event planners suffer during coronavirus outbreak

Michelle Garibay, middle, of Michelle Garibay Events works with her team while overseeing a wedding ceremony in summer 2019. Garibay and other wedding professionals are having to scramble to reschedule weddings and deal with lost revenue due to the coronavirus crisis. Valley News/Courtesy photo

In 2019, Visit Temecula Valley, the organization tasked with bringing tourists and visitors to the Temecula Valley, reported that in 2018 the Temecula Wine Country generated $1.1 billion in economic impact for the region.

In addition to the more than 35 wineries in the area, a big draw for the valley is the wedding and special events industry. Not confined to Temecula Wine Country, any given weekend, from May through October, can see more than a dozen weddings and events happening at venues throughout the valley.

While the wineries are certainly taking a significant hit in revenue and tourism is mostly nonexistent in wine country – the weddings and events industry has downright disappeared.

Darren Diess of Strategic Fundraising Solutions talks to a donor during an Oak Grove Center fundraiserin 2019. Diess says when the restrictions came down, he immediately lost 40% of his annual revenue. Valley News/Courtesy photo

“We’re in the events industry, mainly weddings, and all events have been canceled,” Elliot Miklich of Gava D’s BBQ said. “All of our events, all the way through June have canceled and that’s our main source of income is doing our barbecue catering. We don’t have any other job. It hit us pretty hard having all those cancellations and reschedules toward the end of the year because obviously we were relying on that to pull us through for the next coming months.”

Miklich said during the slower months of the year leading up to May, deposits on upcoming events and weddings help sustain them, but none of that is happening right now.

In response, they have had to pivot to make money.

“We just had to totally change our business model and come up with something else we can do to make money riding on our catering permits and licensing,” Miklich said. “The CDC and health departments are allowing restaurants and everyone to offer these pickups and deliveries. So, we went that route, crossing our fingers and hoping that it would work out.”

Darren Diess of Strategic Fundraising Solutions works with a lot of nonprofits throughout the region, putting on fundraising and special events.

Elliot Miklich of Gava D’s BBQ caters weddings and special events throughout the Temecula Valley during better times. The caterer has had to pivot and offer packaged meals this spring due to all weddings and events being canceled. Valley News/Courtesy photo

“The caterers, the photographers, the DJs, the auctioneers,” Deiss said. “I mean, I lost almost 40% of my revenue in four days. March, April, May, September, October and November. Those are my six busy months. So, I have two seasons, and I’m already losing events in September and October. Just because they’re saying people aren’t going to come back and nobody’s going to want to come out again.”

Michelle Garibay of Michelle Garibay Events is working day and night trying to reschedule brides for weddings planned at venues that are closed for the foreseeable future.

“The majority of us are small businesses and when we’re forced to postpone weddings, that really cuts into cashflow and being able to put food on the table for families,” Garibay said. “It’s kind of interesting how the workforce has been divided up between essential and nonessential workers. Wedding planners are the essential workers in the event industry because we are still putting out fires and crisis management and taking care of our couples. Because the venues are shut down and a lot of key personnel are either furloughed and temporarily laid off, they don’t have access to email. We then fill that role.”

“It’s pretty devastating,” Miklich said. “Not just for everyone involved in the wedding industry, but for our clients who have booked weddings. These are events that our clients sometimes have planned for over a year.”

It has forced wedding and event professionals to get creative.

Trying to accommodate brides and grooms who want to keep their wedding date and do a small wedding, Garibay and other wedding professionals in the area have launched a new option.

“Literally we launched it maybe an hour ago, it’s called Virtual Vows,” Garibay said. “We are now giving them an option to (get married) in a virtual format to where it’s the two of them. We’ve got some pretty flowers coming in, photo livestreaming of the ceremony, so friends and family can participate. We have a digital invitation that can be sent out to everybody, a sweetheart table or a dining table so that the close family who lives at that house can have a celebrative dinner, a wedding cake to help celebrate. But doing it in a safe way and following social distancing guidelines that are required of us for those couples who don’t really want to wait and they want to keep their wedding day.”

Diess said nonprofit organizations are doing something similar to continue their fundraising efforts. Organizations like the Foundation for Senior Care and Michelle’s Place Cancer Resource Center are doing virtual fundraisers.

“We’re going to run it kind of like a Jerry Lewis telethon,” Diess said of the senior care fundraiser he’s putting together. “It’s going to be a 30 to 45-minute program talking about the mission in a pre-interview. There will be four or five people in his warehouse buildings at the time running it, and we’ll run it in real time and they’ll use it on Facebook.

“Michelle’s Place, they’re doing a virtual 5K that’s coming up,” he said. “They were able to get online sponsors. They’re selling T-shirts. Just sign up online and support the cause and mission.”

Diess is also suggesting to his clients that they take a bit of a break from fundraising and connect with their donors.

“So many of the local nonprofits forget that piece, you know, they just event, event, event and my recommendation for them is just kind of back off, take a break, make some phone calls and start to build those one-on-one relationships a little bit deeper,” he said.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at