GARDNER — The past few years have been tough for the wedding industry as the pandemic shutdown put a halt to large-scale celebrations. But local experts say there is reason to be optimistic this Valentine’s Day that romance is about to return to the area.

“I think people are ready to celebrate,” said Nicole Moorshead, general manager of the Colonial Hotel in Gardner and the Chocksett Inn in Sterling. “And that’s what I hear from brides coming in. I’ve heard people say, ‘I’ve been waiting a year and a half to book this (wedding) since we got engaged,’ and so I think that the people who were waiting for him to be safe again will start celebrating as much as before.

The number of COVID cases in the state has fallen sharply in recent weeks, with the number of cases in Worcester County dropping more than 40% by the end of January, according to reports.

“We’re seeing very, very positive signs,” Moorshead said. “We see a lot of people going out and booking in because they feel like they’ve been waiting to see what’s going to happen (regarding the COVID situation). I think this will be the year for us where we have more weddings because of this.

Although the number of wedding bookings is still not at pre-pandemic levels, Moorshead said there are many more couples planning their nuptials than a year ago at this time.

“So we all have positive trends in terms of getting back to normal, hopefully by the end of the year,” she said.

Ongoing concerns about pandemic-related social distancing have led to an increase in the number of couples looking to book an outdoor tented wedding, Moorshead said.

“Our tents here have always been very popular, but they certainly are more so now,” she said. “And I think people are leaning more towards outdoor (receptions) just because they feel a little safer, they feel like their guests will feel a little more comfortable; and they feel like with the way the pandemic has unfolded and with people being more sensitive inside, I think they like that the size of the tent gives them the ability to socially distance and to feel safe.

There will likely always be people who feel uncomfortable attending a large gathering like a wedding reception, she said.

“But I think the vast majority of people are going to be thinking, ‘OK, here’s where we are medically and here’s what we’ve learned’, and I think in general, as spring approaches, we’re going to see more people feel comfortable and a much brighter future in the wedding industry,” she said.

Anne-Marie Bouchard, owner of Anne’s Bridal and Tux in downtown Gardner, said she’s noticed more and more couples are tired of waiting to get married.

“I see a lot of that and I’m actually pretty busy right now,” Bouchard said. “And they’re getting married faster – I mean, I have a wedding in late February, I have a wedding in July. I also have weddings in late 2022 and in 2023, but I see a lot of people are fed up to wait and want to (get) married now. Weddings have definitely resumed.

Anne's Bridal & Tux in Gardner

The timing couldn’t be better for those working in the wedding industry. While some have chosen to get married over the past two years in smaller ceremonies due to COVID guidelines, Bouchard said she suspects most have chosen not to have a large-scale celebration and have instead used their time and money for something more practical, like buying a car or putting down a payment on a house.

But people are now ready to celebrate with big weddings.

“COVID has calmed down, we have a bit more flexibility and people just want to get married when they’re allowed to have big weddings. They’re very excited to do this,” Bouchard said. “We’re done with COVID, we’re done with everything, this is our life and it’s time to start enjoying our life together.”

The pandemic shutdown may have resulted in a noticeable shift in marriages for the foreseeable future, Bouchard said. She thinks the number of bridesmaids and groomsmen in each bridal party will likely remain smaller even if full-size celebrations return.

“I still have wedding parties with eight or 10 people, but the majority of them are now between three and four members,” she said, adding that one of the unexpected advantages of small parties of wedding is that she can give each bride more time. coming up with a dress design. “Money wise, instead of selling 12 dresses, I’m only selling four, but that’s okay because now what’s happening is that on some Saturdays I’ll have three or four dates. you different. And I like to give each bride my full attention, so now they can have a two and a half hour date without anyone else coming in. So it’s their special day with their family.

Bouchard said that even with the return of large wedding receptions, she thinks wedding receptions will continue to be more intimate and personal ceremonies for now. She said the trend of smaller weddings was becoming popular even before the pandemic hit.

“I know a lot of brides don’t want the big wedding parties and the stress that comes with it,” she said. “They like the privacy of their immediate friends at the wedding, and that’s it. They like having only three or four girls, it works better, and they love it.”

Chris Roux, a photographer based in Gardner, says wedding bookings are back on the rise two years into the pandemic.

Local wedding photographers also sense things are looking up. Chris Roux, a Gardner-based photographer who has been shooting weddings for about 12 years, said his bookings were up after a very slow few months during the pandemic shutdown.

“During the peak of COVID, there may have been a few types of backyard weddings — smaller, more private and intimate — but I would say (business) is definitely picking up again,” Roux said. “I am starting to book more traditional size rooms, with 100 or 150 people. I am once again getting the usual traffic of people contacting me and asking me about rates and my availability. »

Roux estimates that most wedding venues he has seen recently appear to be back to at least 90% capacity. He said most of those who inquired about his services expressed interest in purchasing a standard package, which includes photos of the wedding party before, during and after the ceremony, the time of the cocktail and reception.

“Everything seems to be back to normal,” Roux said. “I’m very optimistic that things will get back to normal soon. I don’t just hope so, I think so. It’s a reality.”

With the return of large-scale wedding celebrations, it stands to reason that more couples will plan their honeymoons. An increasingly popular destination for romantic getaways are Disney-related parks and cruises, according to Rachel Darling, a Winchendon-based travel agent with Fairy Tale Concierge.

An increasingly popular destination for romantic getaways are Disney-related parks and cruises, according to Rachel Darling, a Winchendon-based travel agent with Fairy Tale Concierge.

“When you go to Disney with your kids, you experience everything from a kid’s level, but there are actually a lot of hidden romantic things to do at Walt Disney World – there are horse-drawn carriage rides , there are specialty dinners, there are tours,” said Darling, a Magic Kingdom enthusiast who specializes in booking vacations to Disney parks and Universal Orlando resorts and cruises. to book a lot more adults only holidays because I think couples really enjoy the whole atmosphere and that feeling of being young again.”

Darling said it was obvious weddings were getting back to normal due to the number of romantic vacations she had helped organize in recent weeks.

“As of the last day of January, I booked 32 packages in January alone. There were a few families, but most were for adults,” said Darling, who said his services were offered for free. “My reservations for 2022 are exploding. This is going to be my best year ever. »

Darling’s favorite piece of advice for couples considering planning a honeymoon at a Disney resort? Be sure to book a guided tour at one of the parks.

“A lot of people don’t know they have tours, but there are Segway tours, there are tours where you learn the secrets of the Magic Kingdom and go behind the scenes of some rides, or you go underground and see the (corridors) and learn how the actors go from one end of the park to the other without being seen,” she said.

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