Just two years after pivoting the focus of her floral business from retail to events, Lori Himes, owner of Abloom in Walkersville, was forced to pivot right back to retail because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Himes, who has owned the shop for more than 25 years, kept the business afloat and her employees on payroll by focusing on flower deliveries — something that saw a resurgence during the pandemic, with loved ones required to stay away from one another. Usually, most of her income is from weddings and funerals, both of which were much harder to coordinate in 2020.
“Now some families are looking at a year that they’ve postponed the [memorial] service, some type of celebration, and still are maybe not ready to have it yet because of health concerns,” she said.
When Himes looks at her calendar for 2021, she sees many upcoming weddings, especially in the spring and fall. But that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s going to be seeing a big increase in income.
“So what’s happening in the event industry is we may not have lost the events we would have had last year, the income from them, but we’re losing income this year because we can only sell a date once,” she said.
Because so many couples postponed their weddings from 2020 to 2021, events companies are finding themselves fairly booked later this year. But mainly, they’re events that have already been paid for — no new money is coming in.
It’s a struggle that many of the different facets of the events industry are facing, from planners to caterers to DJs.
Cheri Thompson, owner of the Savory Spoon catering company, said she’s still working to reschedule many of her customers. But because those customers downsized their weddings, their initial 25 percent deposit is now enough to cover their entire bill.
“In some cases they’re trying to add on to their event, like add food on or add service on just to cover the whole deposit that they gave us,” Thompson said.
Being a small caterer, Thompson can only work one event per day. So when couples call her to schedule for 2021, she is often already booked with an event moved from 2020.
But Thompson has found another avenue for her business. Last March, she started offering home delivery of meals, which offer five fresh, homemade dinners a week delivered straight to customers’ doors. She just finished the 49th week of dinners.
“It actually has kept me from closing my doors, by the grace of God,” she said
She credits much of her success to Facebook groups like “Everything Frederick,” where locals post about their favorite small businesses, sharing photos and positive reviews with thousands of others. Ory Webster, co-owner of Ory Florals in New Market, said he had the same experience. After transitioning from doing only large events and weddings, the Facebook pages helped get the word out about his flower deliveries and funeral services.
“We’re up to five to six deliveries a day and four to five funerals a week. With all that added up, that equals a nice-sized wedding,” Webster said. “We had months that were better with just deliveries and funerals than we did with our events.”
Struggles and successes
Other event vendors aren’t as flexible, however.
Alex Sincevich, owner of The Dapper DJs in Frederick, said his company was largely without work for a few months in 2020. They did manage to work about 50 weddings, compared to 350 in a normal year. This year, he has about 200 weddings planned, but some couples are already cancelling their May plans.
“I’ve seen couples have to schedule, then reschedule. And some just call it off … because it’s just been a really tough roller-coaster ride,” Sincevich said. “So we’ve been accommodating. We’ve been moving our dates, moving our DJs, we’ve rescheduled, we accommodate if they do have to cancel.”
Event planner Karen Farrow, who owns Celebrated Events, said she planned six weddings last year, compared to her usual 30. When she turned to the Paycheck Protection Program to supplement her income, she realized she was ineligible because she didn’t have payroll.
“[If I] could do that differently, I would definitely pay myself through a payroll company or through doing payroll myself as opposed to just taking draws,” Farrow said. “It would have made a huge difference.”
She was able to obtain one loan, which she has to pay back, unlike the PPP, which is often forgiven.
Sincevich also said he wasn’t able to secure any funding for his business. Neither did Thompson or Webster.
Some events businesses, however, have found new success in the last few months.
Diana Beuchert, who owns Diana’s Horse-drawn Carriages in Mount Airy, said she had the biggest Christmas season of her career last year. For families who wanted to do something special amid canceled traditions, an outdoor horse-drawn carriage ride was among the safest options.
She also found that so many weddings being downsized actually helped her business.
“People started doing micro weddings and home-based weddings and they found they had a lot of money in the budget, because they didn’t have to use a big glitzy venue,” she said. “So they hired me to bring a horse carriage.”
While venues have had their share of economic struggles during the pandemic, Julie Castleman is optimistic about her company Mountain Memories at ThorpeWood. Most of her clients have rescheduled for this year, while many kept their plans at the ThorpeWood venue in Thurmont the same, just with fewer people. She’s even started to offer a discounted package for smaller, shorter weddings.
“Because I think people are thinking now, ‘OK, we really want to get married and we’re OK with 50, so we’re gonna have a smaller wedding,’” she said.
Castleman’s been marketing somewhat differently this past year. When the pandemic began last spring, she had a videographer friend help her make a 90-minute tour of the entire grounds, nearly identical to what she would give guests in person. She said she had people reserve dates during that time after just watching the video — they never actually visited.
Now, 2021 is beginning to fill up, with October completely full. Couples are also starting to book for 2022, which Castleman believes will be much more like a normal year.
But it’s still unclear how the pandemic will play out, and how many events that are currently on the books will get moved again. It’s a concern for all kinds of vendors. One upside, however, is that it’s brought the industry closer. Sincevich said talking and discussing ideas with other members of the industry has kept him sane through this time. Others agree.
“Now, what I’m doing is I’m referring the business that I can’t handle to other caterers, so we can all keep it within Frederick,” Thompson said. “We’re all becoming much more supportive of each other, which has been kind of a silver lining.”