Coronavirus crashes wedding season in US
The flowers had been ordered, the band, the caterer and the venue were booked, and the wedding dress and tuxedo were ready.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, bringing to a screeching halt Kinnon Chapman and Cullom Walker's plans to tie the knot on April 4, in a scenario repeated for tens of thousands of couples across the United States.
"We've learned a very important lesson -- that any plans you have, you need to hold them loosely," Chapman, who lives in Texas, told AFP.
"There are things that are beyond our control and that is a really humbling lesson to learn."
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, an estimated 30,000 weddings took place every weekend in the United States. But the pandemic has disrupted the multi-billion-dollar industry and put a damper on the dream nuptials and honeymoons planned by countless couples.
Many, like Chapman and Walker, have chosen to elope and plan to celebrate with friends and family at a later date. Others are postponing the big day or Zooming their way down the aisle, using the remote video service to share the special moment with their loved ones.
'Emotional roller coaster'
"It's kind of been an emotional roller coaster," said Jacqueline Gazette, 30, who planned to marry fiancé Bryan Altenhaus on June 13 in northern California.
After much hand-wringing, the couple decided last week to postpone the wedding until October, in the hope that by then, the lockdowns imposed throughout most of the country will be lifted and life will be back to something resembling normal.
"I'm trying to remain as calm and patient about it as possible but I've definitely shed some tears because it is something that you plan for so long," Gazette, who works for a tech firm in San Francisco, said. "It's definitely sad and we were looking forward to it but at the end of the day, everyone's safety and health is more important."
For some, like Samy Eid and Francesca George, the idea of an elaborate celebration seems inappropriate at this time, given the catastrophic economic impact of the pandemic and the staggering and mounting death toll.
The Michigan couple was set to wed in August with 400 guests attending and had booked a honeymoon in France. But the two have now scrapped their plans and will hold an intimate ceremony as soon as they receive their wedding license.
"We're just gonna get married immediately," said Eid, 39, who co-owns three top restaurants in Michigan with his father. "No pomp and circumstance, we just want to celebrate our love and get our life started."
For wedding planners, the pandemic has also proven devastating, with many bracing for huge losses and fearing they might be forced to shut down.
"I've been doing this full time for 17 years and this has definitely been tough for me as a business owner in the event industry," said Christina Romero, founder of Signature Event, in northern California.
"Weddings are emotional experiences and the couples are facing the fear of the unknown and not knowing whether vendors will give their money back," she added.
Romero, whose company also organizes corporate events, said she expects to lose 50 percent of her business this year as a result of the pandemic and has already been forced to lay off more than half of her staff.
And she doesn't expect to bounce back anytime soon, given the dire economic predictions and the fact that an average wedding in the San Francisco area costs more than $100,000.
"From a wedding perspective, I think it will take a while because people are going to be afraid to spend money once the shelter-in-place order is lifted," she said.
"For me, I try to put things in perspective," she added. "At the end of the day, I'm alive, I'm healthy and I have a roof over my head.
"I'm focusing on the necessary steps needed to sustain the business ... and then whatever is going to happen will happen. I'm trying really hard to not let my emotions take over because this has been my baby for 17 years."