GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As restrictions loosen for a number of businesses across the state, wedding venues and banquet halls continue to operate under strict capacity limits.
“We really were booked last year… This year, 2021, we’re really hoping to reopen soon,” said Lori Bestrom, venue director at Venue3Two in Grand Rapids. It hosts events such as weddings, corporate meetings, bridal and baby showers, etc.
According to Bestrom, more than two dozen clients postponed their events last year, and the site returned $300,000 worth of security deposits. Venue3Two is a profit-for-nonprofit, so the loss of money impacts the local organizations they work with.
“I feel like we can safely open,” said Bestrom. “We have all the safety precautions in place, and we’ve explained that to our guests, and our guests are more than willing to do that. They really just want to get in here and have their event whether it’s a wedding they’ve been waiting for, an anniversary party, a birthday party--people are really just wanting to engage in family, fun, and friends.”
“With the wedding industry especially, and the event industry as well, it’s not just us,” said Bestrom. “It’s our vendors also. It’s florists, it’s photographers, it’s caterers and bar service. We’re all waiting on the governor and MDHHS to reinstate. We’ve sent emails, we’ve sent letters as well as a group, as individuals and really just not getting much direction right now.”
Under the current Michigan Department of Health and Human Services order, no more than 25 people may gather indoors at non-residential venues. For outdoor, non-residential venues, no more than 300 people may gather. The department says its director, Elizabeth Hertel, is “continuing to monitor the data and make fact-based decisions based on the number of COVID-19 cases, percent positivity in tests, and hospitalizations.”
“When you start counting bride, groom, mom, dad, mom, dad, [and if] you get any siblings in there, you’re close to 25 by the time you get your vendors, your photographer, your caterer, any of that,” said Bestrom. “It goes really quick, so it’s not the day that people dreamed of.”
Venue3Two and other venue owners say a 50 percent capacity limit would help alleviate some of the issues sites are facing.
“2020 was almost nothing as far as business is concerned,” said Bruce Bylsma, owner of The Bluff Banquet Hall and Catering Center. “It looked like it was going to be a great, great year. We were actually on vacation when COVID hit, and then we went home and basically shut down, and we’ve been pretty much shut down since last March.”
In February, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Governor Whitmer and Hertel advocating for increased capacity and funding. According to a press release, the chamber plans to make that push again on Monday in a news conference.
“It’s been really difficult to work with, talk to the brides--I don’t know what to tell them,” said Jan Bylsma. “I think that’s affected me personally… it’s hard. It’s hard to know what to tell them, and I get anxious for them.”
Venues say it’s frustrating to see businesses, like bowling alleys and restaurants, now be allowed to accommodate more people at 50 percent capacity.
When asked to explain the reasoning behind keeping wedding venues and banquet halls under restrictions, MDHHS said in a statement:
“Each gathering is limited to 25 people indoors and 300 people outdoors, whether people are gathering to see a movie together or all coming together to attend a wedding. The order allows for “incidental, temporary gatherings of persons in a shared space,” where individuals or separate small groups happen to be in the same place at the same time (such as restaurants, bowling alleys, retail stores, etc.). These 'incidental, temporary gatherings' differ from the large social gatherings that typically take place in banquet halls; the primary purpose of banquet events is to mingle, reunite, and socialize, and therefore banquet events pose an especially great risk of spreading COVID-19.”