The last full wedding Lauren West helped plan was back in mid-March, when things were starting to get very serious very fast. She remembers that the staff, unsure of best practices, wore masks as an extra precaution.
One week later, the state’s stay-at-home order went into effect. Suddenly, the jam-packed slate of summer weddings was entirely uncertain.
West, who’s a senior associate event planner with the Chicago wedding planning company Naturally Yours Events, fielded agonizing discussions with clients about what to make of their upcoming nuptial plans. Do they push the wedding to the fall? Cancel it entirely?
"We started with rescheduling and postponing our May and April clients, thinking, 'Oh we’ll try to hold out,'" West says. "But as soon as the summer looked a little more bleak, we realized we can't keep going on like this."
West and her team decided they wanted to create a new approach to weddings for the pandemic era—something small, intimate and safe, like a courthouse ceremony with all the panache of a 350-person affair. And so this summer, they devised Neighborhood Nuptials, a series of pop-up wedding dates in neighborhood venues throughout the city.
Through Neighborhood Nuptials, couples can book one of six time slots offered at the one-day pop-ups, which for $2,500 nets them a planning session with Naturally Yours, an assigned photographer, personalized ceremony music and DJ and space for up to 10 guests for the hour-long ceremony (though up to 500 additional friends and family can tune in via a live-streaming service). All of the vendor services—from photographers to DJs—are sourced from the Chicago area, with an emphasis on keeping things hyper-local.
“We really like the idea that someone who lives in their neighborhood and shops in their neighborhood can now get married in their neighborhood, too," West said.
The team initially scheduled a few dates for this summer, but opted to push them back to the fall to give clients more time to decide whether they wanted to move forward with wedding plans. The first event will take place on September 19 at the gallery venue Ignite Glass Studios in the West Loop; others will follow later this fall at venues in Ravenswood, Logan Square, Bridgeport and beyond. Right now, the client base is mostly people who had planned weddings prior to COVID—folks who are “looking for something to be excited about,” West said. The end effect is meant to mimic the dreaminess of a regular wedding, complete with billowing bouquets of flowers, airy venues and friends and family in tow.
Of course, from a public-safety standpoint, even a small pop-up wedding still has to proceed with caution. In keeping with guidelines from the city and special events industry, venue spaces will be sanitized in between each wedding, and couples will be provided with protocol that guests can follow leading up to the event to help mitigate risk. But with large-scale events on hold for the foreseeable future, the $74 billion wedding industry will have to do some adjusting to allow couples to continue to say their I do's—and West says concepts like Neighborhood Nuptials might become a new normal for people looking to exchange vows in the pandemic era and beyond.
“This is something that we can see move forward into next year,” West said. “People might not be looking for a traditional wedding concept anymore. They're looking for something unconventional, and this [service] can be provided to them for a long time.”
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