Weddings are big business again

Couples are having bigger weddings and receptions after restrictions, uncertainty brought on by the pandemic

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Mark Weber, owner of Kloeckner Preferred Flowers, makes a ribbon as Meghan Radosta, a floral designer, arranges a bouquet at Kloeckner Preferred Flowers in the Gage Park neighborhood, Friday morning, April 8, 2022. There has been an increase in floral arrangement wedding orders since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, according to Weber.

Mark Weber, owner of Kloeckner Preferred Flowers, makes a ribbon as Meghan Radosta, a floral designer, arranges a bouquet.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Wedding season is not yet in full bloom, but wedding planner Christine Janda is booked up for the year.

The founder, lead planner and designer at Christine Janda Design & Events, Janda handles some of her firm’s large events. While other planners on her team are still taking a small number of requests, Janda said her calendar filled up unusually fast this year.

She is doing weddings all over the Chicago area — at large hotels, the Adler Planetarium and a private residence in South Barrington.

She’s even planning her own.

Following her advice to couples, she got started right away. Janda got engaged in October and started making inquiries shortly after. If they didn’t block out their date soon, Janda recalled telling her fiance, Brent Edelcup, they would not be able to get married in 2022.

She’s already planned for a DJ and a band. She’s booked a venue — the Chicago Cultural Center. And she’s decided she won’t hold back on the flowers.

This year is expected to be the busiest wedding season in decades as newly engaged couples and those couples who waited out the pandemic try to book their ceremonies and receptions. Still other couples who got married in small weddings under COVID-19 restrictions are now having bigger celebrations.

Floral designer Martha Navarro arranges flowers at Kloeckner Preferred Flowers in the Gage Park neighborhood, Friday morning, April 8, 2022. There has been an increase in floral arrangement wedding orders since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, according to Mark Weber, owner of Kloeckner Preferred Flowers.

Floral designer Martha Navarro arranges flowers at Kloeckner Preferred Flowers in the Gage Park neighborhood.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“I’m optimistic that we’ll find a way through it but it’s a little bit stressful,” said Toni Marie Cox, owner of Toni Patisserie & Café. Not only are wedding cake orders increasing, but couples are ordering larger, more elaborate ones, Cox said.

“People want to party. They want to be together,” said Susan Cordogan, founder and owner of Big City Bride. “They want a sense of community.”

Big City Bride has seen about a 45% increase in inquiries. Mark Weber, owner of Kloeckner Preferred Flowers, said his bookings have increased by at least 20% in the last six months.

And many weddings have returned to pre-pandemic sizes as “microweddings” decline in popularity.

Couples are finding it harder to plan their weddings because COVID-19 took a toll on the wedding and hospitality industries. Cordogan said 12% of wedding-related businesses closed during the pandemic.

Many have not reopened. There are fewer hotel rooms, fewer videographers and fewer cake makers to go around.

Unexpected hurdles have become the norm. For example, Cordogan’s confetti supplier went out of business, and she had to make do with alternatives like streamers.

In February, Big City Bride booked five buses for a wedding. Only four showed up due to an exposure to COVID-19, Cordogan said. The team had to scramble to put guests in Ubers.

“It’s like a live show when you’ve got guests and you’re coordinating all the moving parts,” Cordogan said. “But now, with COVID, and the ripple effect of the devastation in our industry, we have more weddings, with more guests, high expectations and fewer resources than ever, right now.”

Mark Weber, owner of Kloeckner Preferred Flowers, poses for a portrait at Kloeckner Preferred Flowers in the Gage Park neighborhood, Friday morning, April 8, 2022. There has been an increase in floral arrangement wedding orders since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, according to Weber.

Mark Weber, owner of Kloeckner Preferred Flowers, said his bookings have increased by at least 20% in the last six months.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Many vendors are also facing labor shortages, making it difficult to operate normally.

Diane Brisk, founder and owner of wedding planning business, HBIC Weddings, said these shortages, especially among small businesses, have caused longer wait times and other difficulties.

“I’m being told frankly by vendors, ‘Look, I have 25 proposals ahead of you. I’ll get this to you by next week,’” Brisk said. The same requests used to take just a day or two.

Cordogan said disruptions in the international supply chain are also impacting her work. She can no longer always count on products from overseas such as party favors from China or flowers from Ecuador to arrive on time — if they are available at all.

Weber said flower prices have increased, too, as some farms cut back during the pandemic and others went out of business.

“There’s so many factors that are affecting these weddings that it’s really become a chess game to get the wedding that you want,” Cordogan said.

Couples are having to plan well in advance, and are having to become more flexible in their preferences. For example, more couples are getting married on Fridays and Sundays, Cordogan said, and even Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“Ultimately, the traditional wedding, on a weekend, with a full guest count, is harder to come by,” Cordogan said.

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