The Impact of COVID-19 on Lake Tahoe Weddings
Typically, this time of the year means back-to-back weddings for professionals in the Lake Tahoe wedding and events industry. However, 2020 is certainly not a typical year. With the impact of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, weddings have come to a screeching halt in the capacity that we are used to, save for elopements and some smaller ceremonies.
The wedding industry is a complex structure of unique businesses, each providing a piece in the intricate puzzle that is the perfect event, a truly tailored and curated experience for each couple. Many service providers in the Lake Tahoe area have had to reinvent their business structure in order to stay afloat. Some are bracing themselves for the impact of what a slow season could mean to their future, but all are remaining as positive as possible.
In an effort to capture their voices, we interviewed members of the Tahoe Wedding Industry Group (TWIG) to learn more about their individual experiences. Here are their responses and comments, in their own words.
Have you been able to do any weddings this season yet?
- 83% answered Yes.
- 17% answered No.
How has your 2020 wedding season been affected by COVID-19?
Michelle Morton, Operations and Sales Manager for Valhalla Tahoe
- Valhalla Tahoe is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the historic Heller Estate while hosting cultural events like weddings, concerts and plays. Like many wedding vendors and concert venues, we’ve lost or moved more than 96% of 2020 revenue. This has been difficult for all our couples whose dream weddings had to be postponed or modified, and because we’re unable to make the upgrades and improvements to the property that were slated for this year.
Photo: Michelle Morton, Valhalla Tahoe
Christa Deane, Officiant, Mountain High Weddings
- Busiest summer I have had.
Michelle Depoali, Owner of Swoon… A Bridal Salon
- Our brides have found many paths forward to a joyful union. We had many brides elope and are planning a large party next year, postpone to 2021, or embrace intimate gatherings of 50 of their favorite people. It’s inspiring to see!
Cathy Becker, Manager of the North Tahoe Event Center
- We have cancelled all of our wedding receptions in 2020.
If you were able to do any weddings, how were they different in the “new normal”?
Christy McDougal, Sales & Venue Manager at Tannenbaum Event Center
- They are tiny, with masks and spaced tables.
Danell Wilson-Perlman, Managing Member of Reno Tahoe Limousine
- They were much smaller and mostly held in outdoor areas, while being shorter ceremonies and receptions.
Charleton Churchill of Charleton Churchill Photography
- More adventure elopements, less party weddings. Intimate and family gatherings, less money spent, etc.
Photo: Charleton Churchill
What are you offering to your couples who are having to postpone or cancel their wedding dates?
Nancy Rice, Owner of Nancy Rice Artistry
- We allow them to postpone within a full year without any penalties. Deposits are rolled over.
Cathy at North Tahoe Event Center
- We postpone with no penalty, if they cancel we refund 50% of what they have paid, if we cancel we refund 95%.
Blanca & Brandon, Owners of Blanca & Brandon Photography
- We are moving their retainer fee to 2021.
Photo: Blanca & Brandon Photography
What are some changes you’ve made to your business as a result of COVID-19?
Michelle of Swoon Bridal
- We have made so many changes–we are limiting guest count in our store and so our brides have to pick two of the most important people to them to attend and it has been a lot of fun for the brides and for us. It feels intimate and special and like we are planning something so wonderful to show the world at a later date.
Cathy at North Tahoe Event Center
- We are prepared when we are allowed to re-open with our COVID plan in place.
How have you been spending your time in quarantine?
Erik Riekenberg, Owner of Epik Weddings & Events
- Pivoting our packages to fit the times, helping couples move to new dates, working on our business, website, blogs, social media and finding ways to help others affected.
Photo: Epik Weddings & Events
- Teaching online harp lessons and performing livestream mini-concerts.
Danell of Reno Tahoe Limousine
- Transportation remained a necessary business so we didn’t quarantine. However we did take the precautions needed to be safe during COVID-19.
Christy at Tannenbaum Event Center
- Answering emails and giving private tours for 2021.
What is the best advice you’d give to 2020 couples who are facing uncertainty this year?
Michelle from Valhalla Tahoe
- If you have to get married in 2020, be flexible and creative. Understand that things aren’t going to be exactly like you dreamed they were going to be. Things will look a little different, but it doesn’t change your love for one another. A wedding is two families coming together to celebrate becoming one. Show the love and respect you have for your friends and new family members by wearing masks when not eating, drinking or taking photos.
Erik of Epik Weddings & Events
- Your love story is not cancelled. Let’s find a way to have the wedding of your dreams, even if it is smaller this year and a sequel reception next year.
Photo: Epik Weddings & Events
Danell of Reno Tahoe Limo
- This pandemic isn’t going to last forever, being with your loved ones is going to help you through these tough times. Stick through, you’ll see it all pay off.
Charleton of Charleton Churchill Photography
- Get married now, elope with a small group of close family and friends, then plan a massive party for guests who couldn’t attend.
Photo: Charleton Churchill
As a business owner, what has been your saving grace during these trying times?
Christa of Mountain High Weddings
- I can issue marriage licenses.
Blanca & Brandon of Blanca & Brandon Photography
- Our amazing couples who are communicative, vendors that we can chat with, and the much appreciated “day off”.
- I am grateful for every day! Things could be sooooooo much worse. I have my health, I have food and a roof over my head. Life is good.
Photo: Hall Creations Photography
Michelle from Valhalla Tahoe
- Living in such an amazing place has been my saving grace. The ability to go out early in the morning or to catch an amazing sunset is worth its weight in gold. Talking to new 2021 couples has also been a saving grace. It’s good to hear hope and excitement in people’s voices. It has been hard to be the bearer of bad news, so being able to share joy again has been uplifting!
Photo: Michelle Morton, Valhalla Tahoe
Nancy of Nancy Rice Artistry
- Trusting god and knowing that as long as I have my health and my family has theirs, it will all be OK.
As the response to the pandemic has put an end to large gatherings for the foreseeable future, the wedding industry, and many industries like it, has been severely affected. Though these are uncertain times, one theme remains consistent throughout the industry – “love is not cancelled”.
Celebrating in Tahoe Blue Sky Style
When you’re in love, my how they fly by,
Blue days, all of them gone,
Nothing but blue skies from now on.
– Irving Berlin
Blue Sky Events is a full-service event production company owned by husband and wife duo, Kerry and Jason Hawk. They consider themselves not just an events company, but experts in all things Lake Tahoe. Blue Sky specializes in planning, managing, and producing corporate incentive groups, community events, fundraisers, festivals, concerts… and of course, destination weddings.
1. Theilen Photography
2. Scott Sikora Photography
3. Brian Walker
4. Mike Larson
5. Theilen Photography
6. Theilen Photography
7. Mike Larson
8. Corey Fox Photography
Kerry’s story began on the East Coast, as she is originally from Pennsylvania. While attending the University of Pittsburgh, she visited Lake Tahoe with some friends for a summer getaway, and met her now-husband, Jason, who is originally from Alabama. Kerry and Jason connected over a love of everything outdoors that Lake Tahoe has to offer, traveling, and now creating event magic together. They’ve been together for 25 years!
During college, Kerry began working as an intern for Zephyr Cove Resort as a summer job in between semesters and made the move to Lake Tahoe permanently after she received her Bachelor’s degree. At the time, Zephyr Cove Resort was looking to expand its events department and commissioned Kerry to design their shoreline events space, one that still stands to this day. It was through this internship that Kerry found a genuine passion for all things event planning. She then gave her notice to pursue her dream of working for herself, and so, Blue Sky Events was born.
Throughout Kerry’s years in the business, Blue Sky Events has evolved into an event planning powerhouse that seeks to bring people together for a once in a lifetime experience they won’t forget. They have currently expanded their services to planning events for Google on the West Coast including locations like Phoenix, Denver, Portland, and Seattle.
Blue Sky is about the people, the memories, and the human connection. With a company culture that revolves around professionalism, fun, and attention to detail, Kerry and her team take pride in their ability to create a personalized experience for each unique client’s needs. The Blue Sky Events team is composed of incredible full time lead planners and seasonal assistants that come back year after year. They do not simply hire new employees for the sake of hiring; they have carefully curated a team of professionals that fits into their ethos and culture.
Photo Credit: Mabble Media
This season has been an unprecedented one for everyone in the wedding and special events industry, but Kerry maintains hope for the future. Blue Sky Events endured the hard times of the 2008 recession, and she believes that the lessons they learned at that time will get them through this pandemic as well. Their core focus this season is to support their couples in the best ways they can. Many couples have postponed until next year, and Blue Sky has accommodated this shift without any fees and penalties. They have even made adjustments to current weddings, adjusting to smaller group sizes and accommodating elopements and micro weddings. Working together with the incredible vendors in the Lake Tahoe area, Kerry appreciates how the community has come together to support each other this season.
Through the pandemic times, Kerry sees a silver lining in having to slow down. She has found how deeply she truly loves what she does because she misses it incredibly. For Kerry, it’s been a very eye-opening learning experience, as it can be so easy to take everyday life for granted and get wrapped up in the ‘grind’. Kerry has been utilizing this time to reflect, grow, and better aid her clients moving forward into what she believes will be a stellar season for everyone in 2021. After all, above every dark cloud is Blue Sky.
A Celebration for All Seasons
It’s been said before that rain on a wedding day is good luck. If that’s the case, then Tara and Aaron’s wintry wonderland celebration – which included rain, slush, and snow – must have meant infinite luck and prosperity. Their special day, along with its wide range of seasons on display, was fabulously photographed by KSL Wedding.
Tara and Aaron’s love began years ago at a friend’s 30th birthday party. They met and had a short conversation but Aaron was a little shy. He texted her a few days later asking if she’d like to go on an adventure. According to Tara, they’ve been on one ever since.
Aaron’s initial suggestion was for Tara to go with him to a friend’s wedding, to which Tara replied, “how about dinner first?” So their first date was dinner, the second date was the wedding, and both went so well that Aaron asked her out for a third date. He was traveling to Hawaii for work, and knowing that Tara loves to travel, he asked her if she’d like to join him on his trip. And so their adventure began.
At the time, Tara and Aaron were living outside of Seattle, and when Aaron decided to pop the question, he invited their friends and family over for a barbecue. When it was looking like Tara’s brother wouldn’t be able to make it, Aaron became visibly upset. But at the last minute, her brother arrived just in time for Aaron to drop to one knee in front of everyone they loved and say to Tara, “I never want to stop adventuring with you”.
Following their whimsical engagement, Aaron’s job prompted a move to the Reno/Tahoe area. Tara and Aaron quickly began to build a new and exciting life around all the things they enjoyed together, especially adventure. The entrancing Sierra Nevadas and Lake Tahoe stole their hearts instantly, and it only seemed fitting to choose a wedding venue that embodied all the magic of the area. The Lodge at Tahoe Donner in Truckee turned out to be the perfect place for their celebration.
It was always Aaron’s dream to have a snowy winter wedding, but Tara wasn’t a fan of the cold, so they chose a date in September. The week of their nuptials was planned in such a way that friends and family could come early and enjoy the pre-wedding festivities, including golf and a boat cruise across Lake Tahoe. The weather during the week was typical late Summer / early Fall weather with sunny days and crisp evenings – until Saturday, when the two were given the gift of snow on their big day. Aaron got his winter wedding wish after all!
Coming from the Pacific Northwest, Tara is no stranger to unpredictable weather, so she came prepared by ordering blankets and pashminas, and the couple made sure to warn their guests that inclement weather was always a possibility. Their wedding photographers, Kevin and Suzanne of KSL Wedding, also suggested ordering clear umbrellas as a “just in case” item that ended up adding a unique touch to their photos.
The day started off warm and sunny but quickly became cold, rainy, and snowy. To escape the elements, the ceremony was moved from outside into a heated tent out of the storm provided by the venue. Tucked away and cozy in the middle of a winter wonderland, Tara and Aaron promised each other their biggest adventure yet, forever.
Unique details made their big day truly one of a kind. Tara and Aaron included a table dedicated to lost loved ones to celebrate with them in spirit. Aaron custom made all of their lawn games, which were moved into the tent to be enjoyed out of the blustery storm. Instead of flower girls, Tara had “Petal Pushers”, women in her life that she is incredibly close to, like her aunts, and mother figures.
Accents of the beauty of the alpine wilderness were captured with lush white blooms and rustic greenery beautifully assembled by Love and Lupines. Gold plated decor and woodsy elements encompassed the warm, cozy, mountain elements that Tara and Aaron aimed to share with their loved ones. Tara wore a flowy, elegant ball gown by Hayley Paige from Swoon Bridal that truly tied together all the beautiful details of the day.
After the ceremony, cocktail hour took place under the shelter of the tent surrounded by snow-capped pine trees and snow falling around them. Guests enjoyed the “lawn” games, cuddled up in their blankets, and enjoyed the ambience of this stunning wilderness retreat in the woods.
When it came to treats, Tara doesn’t eat sugar, so she chose something that was special to her – a full popcorn bar with a variety of flavor toppings and salts. Tara even had custom popcorn holders made for her bridesmaids. For those guests who preferred more traditional desserts, Lake Tahoe Cakes created a delectable Red Velvet cake along with chocolate and vanilla cupcakes. The wedding cake even included figurines of their 3 dogs who could not physically be there that day.
The party continued into the night with glow sticks and dancing. Though the weather was a September surprise, each detail of their unexpected change in plans tied the day together beautifully, with Tara and Aaron adjusting their sails to the will of Mother Nature and enjoying their wedding to the fullest. Surrounded by love and snowy pines, Tara and Aaron’s Lake Tahoe adventure was a celebration for all seasons.
Venue & Catering: The Lodge at Tahoe Donner | Bride’s Gown: Swoon Bridal | Cake & Desserts: Lake Tahoe Cakes | Floral Designer: Love and Lupines | Photographer: KSL Wedding | Wedding Planner: Marcella Camille Events
Keeping the Faith
Reverend Mark Frady is a minister based out of Carson City, who officiates both non-denominational and religious weddings all over Northern Nevada and California. Mark has been involved with weddings in the Reno/Tahoe area for over 25 years. He believes wholeheartedly in the institution of marriage and loves to bring an air of humor, spirituality, and unconditional love to his ceremonies.
Photo Credits: THE GOODNESS, HARMONY HILDERBRAND, CHRIS WERNER, CMYK PHOTOGRAPHY
Along with his years in the ministry, Mark has led an incredibly interesting life. He served in the army in Germany for 4 years during the time that the Berlin Wall stood. Mark recounts many memories of driving alongside the wall and seeing fully armed men with weapons pointed right at him. It was a scary time to be in Germany, but he embraced it fully and remained in the country for 4 more years after leaving the service. Mark spent that time driving a delivery truck, which enabled him to travel all over Europe and become fluent in German in the process.
When he returned to the states, Mark moved to Nevada with his parents to attend the University of Nevada, Reno and study German. He was an outstanding student, taking 24 credit hours per semester. Mark began student teaching German classes in Carson City but knew he didn’t want to teach forever.
Just after marrying his wife, Carla, Mark accepted a job overseas in Switzerland. Later, he was transferred back to the U.S. to work for the same company in Chicago. But after a while, Mark and his family decided they wanted to leave the big city and return to the West, so they relocated back to Carson City in 1986.
Mark decided to get into the dry cleaning business, purchasing his first shop in South Lake Tahoe, and quickly expanding to more locations around Northern Nevada. He further grew his business to include tuxedo rentals. At this point, Mark became hooked on weddings, and he eventually started an organization called Weddings of the West.
In 1998, Mark felt his calling to become ordained as a minister. He went through a 3-year training process at Fountainhead FourSquare Christian Church in Carson City. In 2005, he began officiating weddings.
Photo Credit: ZINSER PHOTOGRAPHY
Mark did not simply want to be an officiant for his couples, he wanted so much more. From previous experience in his own life, Mark and his wife, Carla, took a class through their church. And after 20 years together, they credit this class with saving their marriage, as it taught Mark and Carla how to communicate and be vulnerable with each other, an aspect of their relationship that was missing at that time.
Mark now teaches that same class, many times alongside his wife Carla, to all of his couples. The class lasts for 8 weeks and is conducted over Zoom for one hour each week. Since he began, he has taught the class to 369 couples, on every continent except Antarctica. As of January 2020, 342 of those couples are still married.
It remains important to Mark to build strong relationships with his couples. His wedding packages include a “get to know you” phase as well as the class, the wedding rehearsal practice, wedding, and lifetime marriage counseling should his couples ever need it. The deep relationship that Mark builds with all of his couples goes far beyond their wedding day. He keeps up with their lives, sends them holiday and congratulatory cards, and receives them in return. He always jokes with them that ‘Mark’ is a great name for their first child. It’s his goal to create a lifetime of friendship and his couples quickly become like family to him.
It’s no secret that 2020 has been a challenging year for the wedding industry, but Reverend Mark Frady has adjusted his sails to weather the changes. Many weddings this year have been smaller affairs or elopements, and he has even officiated some online weddings. Mark’s ultimate goal is to provide a service to his couples that is unique as they are, providing them with the tools they need to not only enjoy the experience of their wedding day, but a beautiful life together thereafter.
A Heavenly Experience
Jason and Angela met at a friend’s 21st birthday party when they were 22 years old in Orlando, Florida. They quickly discovered that they both lived in the same town two hours away in Sarasota, and only 5 minutes away from one another. The two dated for 7 years before they tied the knot at age 29 in Lake Tahoe. Jason mentions that there wasn’t quite an “Ah-ha, she’s the one” moment, but instead many years of growing together until they couldn’t imagine not being with each other. They loved the excitement that every new experience gave them and they simply wanted to carry it on for the rest of their lives.
As two adventurers who love everything about the outdoors, Jason devised a spectacular plan for a dream engagement. After a little bit of research, he decided that a trek to the Mt. Everest Base Camp would personify everything that they loved most. At just over 17,000 feet, the trek to Base Camp was one of the most intense and challenging feats they’d ever accomplished together, but it was one they’ll never forget. Upon reaching the top, Jason dropped to one knee and asked Angela for forever. It was truly the perfect moment!
Since they had a mountain proposal, it only made sense that they get married at the top of one! There was simply no better place than the rustic, panoramic views of Heavenly Mountain in Lake Tahoe. Jason and Angela chose to make their wedding a three-day affair, which made for a one-of-a-kind, memorable experience for everyone involved. The joy of their nuptial celebration was captured in the lovely photos below from VILD Photography.
In preparation for the ceremony, Jason and Angela met in a spot overlooking the lake for their first look. The emotions flew as they saw each other and set the tone for the rest of the beautiful day. The wedding party was shuttled up Heavenly Mountain on the tram where Jason and Angela would say I do with an expansive view of all the splendor Lake Tahoe has to offer.
Jason and the groomsmen donned vibrant blue suits with red bow ties while the bridesmaids wore dark red and gold gowns of their choosing, all coming together to paint a flashy, unique vintage feel. Angela wore an orange flower crown to compliment her beautiful, classic lace gown and carried a gorgeous bright colored bouquet designed by South Lake Tahoe Enchanted Florist.
Unique accents were the name of the game with their wedding details. Jason and Angela’s pet corgi, Basil, was the perfect addition to their special day. As the third member of their family, there simply was no wedding without him. So Jason walked down the aisle with Basil in tow. During Angela’s vows, Basil popped his head between Jason’s legs and turned an already emotional moment into an even more special memory.
When Jason first began his career, he moved to California from Florida while Angela stayed behind to finish her senior year of college. The two sent handwritten letters to each other sealed with wax, and they continue to read them back to each other on their dating anniversary. It only seemed fitting for a sweet handwritten note to make it into their gifts to each other.
Jason’s groomsmen’s gifts were incredibly unique. He wanted to give them something that would “blow their minds”, something they’d never expect. So he gifted them each their own figurine that represented a memory that the two had shared together.
The reception took place at the Lakeview Lodge at Heavenly with the catering and drinks provided by Heavenly. Their three-tier cake from Flour Girl Wedding Cakes was topped with blueberries, the couple’s favorite, and a rustic cake topper with their initials, A & J.
The guests enjoyed games, libations, and dancing courtesy of Cornerstone Entertainment. The night ended with the song, Angela, by The Lumineers, where everyone took to the dance floor to slow dance with each other. It was a beautiful moment for Angela and Jason to share with their guests.
After a truly memorable weekend with all of the people they love most in the world, Jason and Angela remain deeply in love after almost a year of wedded bliss. Quarantine and COVID-19 have drawn them much closer together and they are truly grateful to have one another and their health during these times. Here’s to many more adventures for these beautiful lovers!
Venue and Catering: Heavenly | Photographer: VILD Photography | Florist: South Lake Tahoe Enchanted Florist | DJ: Cornerstone Entertainment | Cake: Flour Girl Wedding Cakes
Evoking Awe-Inspiring Designs
A floral and event designer extraordinaire, Inspirations by Gina has transformed ordinary flowers into works of art at weddings and events all over Northern California. Last summer, we saw Owner Gina Lett Shrewsberry work her magic at a meeting of the Tahoe Wedding Industry Group, and shortly thereafter, we were delighted to welcome her as a member of Tahoe Engaged.
Photo credit: Charleton Churchill
Gina’s journey to becoming a floral designer began with a wedding planning business, which she started in 2008. For many of her weddings, she found herself designing floral arrangements for her ‘DIY’ brides and quickly discovered a new passion. Then, Gina began taking classes in floral design and slowly started incorporating floral design into her business offerings. But between both event planning and floral design, she was carrying too heavy of a workload. So she decided to transition her business to focus solely on floral design for weddings and events.
Photo credits: Simple Joie Photography and IQ Photo
Recently, due to COVID-19, Gina has learned to adjust her business strategy accordingly. She heard a quote that truly resonated with her. The speaker stated that many businesses are not going to be around when we get to the other side of the pandemic, and it really stuck with her. So instead of having a “whine and cheese party”, as she calls it, Gina decided it’s time to buckle down and innovate her business model.
During this time, Gina is utilizing her extra time to reinvent her brand, hone her craft via webinars and workshops, and reach out for new opportunities. More recently, she has found a need for floral arrangement deliveries for special occasions such as Mother’s Day and birthdays. She finds that offering this service has helped to brighten people’s days during such uncertain times. Plus it’s a great way to support her local community.
Photo credit: Emily Jean Images
As for Gina’s 2020 weddings, many of her couples have rescheduled their celebrations to 2021, and some are in what she calls a “holding pattern”, anxiously awaiting their next steps moving forward. But Gina has gotten quite creative in helping her clients continue to celebrate love during the pandemic. One couple ended up having to postpone their big day until December 2021. But the lovebirds decided they still wanted to get married this year. Gina looked into it further and discovered that Santa Cruz County was still issuing California marriage licenses despite COVID. She then contacted a photographer, sent flowers out to the bride with care instructions, and the couple was married in a small ceremony. Not only was Gina able to go above and beyond her bride’s requests, she will also be designing florals for their larger celebration next December!
Photo credits: Adrienne & Dani, Emily Jean Images and Simple Joie Photography
When it comes to growing her business, Gina loves the organic approach through authentic interaction and word of mouth referrals. Once, she booked a wedding simply by taking her pet labradoodle out for a walk. Striking up a conversation with another woman who was also walking her dog, Gina learned that this woman needed help for her daughter’s wedding, and they made a connection right then and there. Gina believes that moments like these are simply “meant to be.”
Though times are uncertain for many in the wedding industry, Gina is focused on keeping her momentum going. Through Gina’s one-on-one connections and dedication to her craft, Inspirations by Gina is an inspiration to us all.