Dayton event planning business turned upside down by COVID-19

Samantha Joy Events has seen seven weddings postponed already

Samantha Leenheer entered the second week of April with the challenge of handling her wedding planning business, Samantha Joy Events, during the coronavirus pandemic while being 39 weeks pregnant.

This is a difficult time for all business owners. It’s also a stressful time for new parents. She had spent the last four weeks at home to limit her risk of exposure to COVID-19 and took an ultra-conservative approach, not touching mail or opening packages, stocking up the refrigerator and freezer to cut down on runs to the grocery and not having family and friends over to visit.

That will continue to be the plan now. The baby, Eleanor Joy Leenheer, arrived April 10. Samantha and her husband, Brian, plan to wait a couple of weeks before letting family visit. Brian was at least allowed in the delivery room, something that isn’t possible in some areas of the country at this time.

“I think originally we were up we were allowed up to eight people who could visit (in the hospital),” Samantha said before the birth, “and now it’s literally just my husband. Even the conversation of having a midwife or a doula basically got ripped off the table.”

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Plans have changed fast in all areas of life since the pandemic began. Samantha Joy Events, which she started in Dayton almost four years ago, plans 16 to 20 events per year — not just weddings but corporate and social events. It has seen seven events postponed already this year. Three couples decided to have small, intimate weddings at home.

“Some of them are just the bride and the groom and their officiant,” Leenheer said. “As long as they were underneath (the 10-person limit), they were fine. It was still significant and important to them that they got married in 2020 on their date that they work so hard for and they’re just kind of staying optimistic about having that (wedding reception) later in the year or even next year.”

This would have been a big year for weddings because many couples wanted to get married at the start of a new decade, and 2020 will be an easy year to remember on anniversaries. Instead, Leenheer spent March and April providing additional support to clients beyond what she would normally do. Her company rarely sees cancellations or postponements. They might get one every couple of years.

All of a sudden, there were a number of cancellations because it’s impossible to have a wedding of any significant size with outside vendors — caterers, photographers, DJs etc. — during this time.

“The stay-at-home order really kind of turned our business a little bit upside down,” Leenheer said, “from having more structured hours and scheduled calls and meetings to really being kind of on call for the last three weeks. At any given point in time, stress or concern can kind of take over with any bride and groom. They want to kind of start investigating what postponement options really look like with all their vendors.”

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Leenheer has seen the stress on vendors increase as the weeks have gone by during the pandemic. In March and early April, people had no problem getting deposits back from clients who had yet to render services — hairdressers, for example. It’s a different story now.

“As we’ve kind of seen our calendar get moved later and later into the year,” Leenheer said, “vendors have had to be a little harder about returning any of those deposits just so that they can keep paying the rent and keep their doors open and keep taking care of their families.”

June is a big month for weddings, and Leenheer is seeing some of this year’s June weddings postponed until 2021, which is decreasing availability at venues and with vendors for next year. At the same time, Leenheer said there is an expectation among wedding planners of couples’ budgets shrinking in size because of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

“That for us as wedding planners is going to be a huge hit for us,” she said. “I don’t want to say we’re expendable, but in a way, we’re kind of people that not everyone considers. Obviously, you need to feed people. Obviously, you need a venue. Those are kind of necessities. Photography is a necessity. But some of the other vendors that are more optional are going to see a bigger hit. Wedding planners and designers and stuff are going to be one of them.”

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