“A Dent In Your Life”: The Austin Wedding Industry Grapples With COVID-19

by Elisa Regulski

It’s one of the most treasured moments of a Jewish wedding. A live band plays fast and vibrant Klezmer music, the bride and groom balance on chairs above the dance floor, and a crowd of supportive family members swirl around them. 

But Samantha Subar, 28, knew she couldn’t ask her guests to dance the hora during a global pandemic. 

“That really cherished tradition was not going to be something that people would want to partake in,” Subar said. “That was the turning point for us. We’re going to have to postpone.”

According to Wedding Report, about 12,100 weddings occur in the Austin area each year. As couples grapple with the emotional decision to cancel or postpone, vendors must stay flexible in order to keep their contracts.

A Bump In The Road

Subar originally scheduled her 250-person wedding for May 24, 2020 in Austin, Texas. But like many couples, COVID-19 forced her to change course. The new date is set for February 14, 2021, and she hopes this allows enough time for life to return to normal. 

“I think us doing it that far out makes it easier on our vendors,” Subar said. 

Austin-based wedding photographer Kirsten Doering, 29, encourages her clients to postpone their weddings rather than cancel. 

“Your wedding is a celebration about your love,” Doering said. “Having to push it back doesn’t mean you love each other any less. It’s a dent in your life, and it’ll pop back out.”

For Subar, postponing her wedding has felt relatively painless. 

“The only money we lost in this entire process is the ketubah, which is our Jewish marriage license,” Subar said. “We have to have that re-done because the date is now different.”

Subar avoided losing deposits because her vendor contracts include a force majeure, a  clause that protects both parties from liability in the event of an extraordinary circumstance such as a pandemic.

“I don’t think any of our vendors are out to screw us,” Subar said. “I feel badly for them because I know this is how they make their money. I think all around everyone is in agreement that this sucks.” 

Staying Afloat

As a new wedding photographer, Doering is especially feeling the financial burden of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It’s my first year doing this full-time, and I didn’t see this happening. Nobody did,” Doering said. “This is not the right time to have started a business.”

Booking inquiries have dwindled as uncertainty grows. 

“I haven’t started panicking yet, but right now it’s like dead air,” Doering said. 

Alyssa Young, owner of Cake Llama Custom Dessert Catering, also said the crisis has affected her new business.

“We’re not even a full year in business and everything we had on the books was just copy and pasted to next spring,” Young said. 

The Ripple Effect

As weddings reschedule for the fall, Doering is faced with an especially hectic season. In October, she is shooting two weddings in one weekend — one in Houston and another in Austin. 

“I’m here to serve my clients any way I can,” Doering said. “And if that means that I need to rally and chug a Red Bull the next day, I’ll be there. I’ll do it.”

But Doering worries if couples push back too far, it will cut into her availability for new clients. 

“That’s when it starts affecting me,” Doering said. “It’s this whole weird ripple effect.”

Staying Optimistic

When clients approach her for advice regarding the global crisis, Doering encourages them to do what she does: acknowledge the grief and let it out. 

“If you need to scream and cry, do it for 10 minutes and then come up with a solution,” Doering said.

After a period of frustration and confusion, Subar has learned to handle the situation with a dash of humor.

“We might need to let the dress out a little bit because stress-eating has happened,” Subar said with a chuckle. “But there is some beauty in realizing this situation is out of my hands.”

The pandemic has also helped her put many of the wedding’s stressful elements into perspective. 

“Leading up to that point, (I thought) ‘oh gosh how are we going to create a seating arrangement and the place cards and what do I want my hairstyle to be?,’” Subar said. “And then once everything started to unravel, a lot of those things became so much less important.”

She realized, ultimately, the most valuable part of her wedding is having her friends and family there to celebrate her love and keep traditions alive. 

“That is part of the beauty of the situation,” Subar said. “It brought me back foundationally to what is important about this day.”

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