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Wedding venues navigate pandemic

Wedding venues navigate pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam implemented restrictions on gatherings, wedding venues, including ones at the lake, felt the impact.

"We lost March, April, May and the first two weeks in June because of the restrictions," said Melba Seneff, of The Pavilion at Black Water Junction.

Built on a family farm in Union Hall, The Pavilion at Black Water Junction opened in 2016 and features sweeping views of the countryside. Up to 200 guests can be seated inside the covered pavilion, which also includes a full kitchen, restrooms, a fireplace and a pizza oven.

"We had a lot of brides who were pretty upset," recalled Belle Garden Estate owner Isabelle Russell of the COVID-19 restrictions. 

Just off Virginia 116 in Wirtz, Belle Garden Estate's 10-acre property features one of Franklin County's oldest historic homes, along with a creek and mountain views. The property also includes an outdoor pavilion that can be used for receptions for up to 200 guests. 

"When it first hit, it was extremely scary," said Russell, who also owns Garden Rose Events and Design, a wedding planning, designing and consulting company.

In those first few months of the pandemic, couples who were able to reschedule did, although Seneff said she had three couples who canceled completely. 

Like Seneff, Russell had many couples who rescheduled their weddings to the same time next year, which still amounts to a loss of income as the venue won't be able to take any new reservations. "That's a big hit for us," Russell added.

When contacted in mid-November, Russell said next year's wedding season for her venue only had two Saturdays available. "We do have a lot of Sundays left," she added.

Even after restrictions on group gatherings were relaxed in June, venues still made sure precautions were taken. At The Pavilion at Black Water Junction, Seneff said that included wearing masks, ensuring guests who weren't in the same household were seated at socially distanced tables, and tasking caterers with wrapping utensils and serving in buffet lines. 

While the rules were outlined to couples in advance, Seneff said she didn't stick around for each of the ceremonies or receptions at her place because, "I'm not the COVID police." 

However, Seneff did follow up with couples afterward, and by all accounts, everything has gone well. "It has worked and as far as I know, no one has ever come down with COVID," she said. 

At Belle Garden Estate, couples were given similar directives. 

"We definitely made sure we had hand sanitizer on every table, and masks and gloves for the caterers," Russell said. 

Following each event, both Seneff and Russell said they made sure everything was thoroughly sanitized.

And while the loss in business hasn't been ideal during a year that was far from normal, these owners said they have tried to make the best of it by taking time to spruce up and expand their properties.

"We actually got a lot of projects around here done," Russell said.

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