The Gardens of Castle Rock

With wedding season approaching, many southern Minnesota couples are deciding to postpone ceremonies out of concern for their family’s health in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Venues like The Gardens of Castle Rock, seen here, are working with clients and other vendors to try and reschedule celebrations as necessary. (File photo)

Wedding venues in southern Minnesota say peak season for the ceremonies is nearing, often running from May through late autumn, but with the number of COVID-19 cases around the U.S. growing significantly, many engaged couples are seeking to reschedule celebrations for a few months down the road.

In doing so, local residents are citing concerns about the health of their families and the wrench that the virus has thrown in certain aspects of preparation for the big day.

Angela Watkins said she chose to move her Owatonna wedding from June 13 to mid-August because of concerns about family members who fall into the high-risk category for severe cases of COVID-19, which includes older adults and those with certain pre-existing medical conditions.

“We all think that it might die down by then,” Watkins said, of her new date later this summer. “I just kind of went with it, told the wedding party what was going on and informed my family of the change. They thought it was a good idea.”

She noted that she was still able to have the ceremony on a Saturday, as initially planned, and that one silver lining of the delay is that it gives her more time to prepare. Apart from health concerns, she noted that the business where she was supposed to have her dress fitting next month was also no longer able to accommodate in-person visits due to the virus.

Fellow southern Minnesota resident Spring Oeltjenbruns also decided to postpone the date of her wedding celebration, but was able to get legally married over the weekend with a small group of immediate family members present.

“We had our wedding, reception, venue and dance planned and paid for. Now all of this will be done on July 25 depending on the virus,” she noted in an email.

Getting a marriage license

With many county offices significantly restricting public access due to the virus, some have found ways for couples to still complete a marriage license application during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Steele County Recorder’s Office, officials have a work-around for residents to complete the process online, although it involves mailing forms back and forth, making for somewhat of a longer process. The couple would also still need to sign the document in the presence of a notary.

In Nicollet County, public services manager Jaci Kopet noted that due to the nature of the process, for her agency they still must be done in-person, meaning it’s not possible to complete an application at this time.

“Those have to be done in-person because you take an oath and we need to see picture identification,” explained Kopet. “It’s something that we can’t do by mail, although you can go anywhere in the state. If you’re getting married in Nicollet County, it doesn’t mean that you have to get your license in Nicollet County.”

Kopet added that there does tend to be an increase in marriage license applications during the spring and summer and that, once given, they’re valid for six months for all marriages in Minnesota.

Prompted by bar closings

For her part, Oeltjenbruns said that the decision to reschedule was made soon after Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order early last week temporarily closing down bars, restaurants and other collective entertainment venues.

This decision was also the impetus for Karmen Barnes to start exploring new dates for her April 18 ceremony, which was set to be held in Las Vegas.

“We were actually pretty lucky, as everything was booked through the hotel that we were having the wedding at. It was just a call to the wedding planner, then we had to move flights which was on our own and contact our guests who had everything booked already as well,” said Barnes.

Letting guests know about the plan to reschedule was one of the hardest parts, she noted, but said that because of her own underlying health conditions the best decision was to reschedule. Now, Barnes is looking at dates next fall and hoping that she can still make a friend’s wedding in Scotland around the same time.

As with Barnes’ hotel in Las Vegas, Oeltjenbruns said the Monterey Ballroom in Owatonna was very flexible with her throughout the process of rescheduling. Around the area, event venues say the majority of clients who have decided not to get married in the coming months are rescheduling — not cancelling.

“If they reschedule, there’s no additional fee and we keep the deposit in place but if they cancel or something, under these conditions we would return their deposit to them,” said Joe Hoehn, owner of The Mill Event Center in Waseca.

Typically, he said his space will host one wedding per week, maybe two. With rescheduling, he said they may be looking at Friday weddings — as opposed to only Saturday ceremonies — and even mid-week celebrations.

Maybe on a Sunday?

With most standard wedding times booked for the foreseeable future, owner Jenny Ernster of The 3 Ten Event Venue in Faribault said couples are becoming more open to the idea of getting married on Sunday or on weekends when there are other big events happening in the area. She noted that The 3 Ten isn’t usually booked on the day of the Blue Collar BBQ & Arts Festival in Faribault, but this summer it is.

While it’s been beneficial to the venue that so far couples are rescheduling and not canceling, if the virus continues to spread and postponements run into the summer, Ernster said she worries that it will take away from new business next year by making many 2021 dates unavailable.

"We don’t know how long this is going to last, and we’re just hoping people are going to stick with us and reschedule,” she added. “Then, there are small business loans as this goes on, too, that we could try and apply for.”

At The Mill, Hoehn said there’s been just one wedding scheduled for April which is now pushed back to November, but noted that he’s started fielding a few inquiries from couples who have their nuptials booked for May.

Glenn Switzer, owner of The Gardens of Castle Rock near Farmington, said this time of year is primarily popular at his venue for tours — their busiest season is the fall.

“We’ve made some small changes on the number of guests, but we’re open for tours we just hold them to under six people,” said Switzer. “Our weddings don’t start up until May and we’re working with a few couples right now to be ready to move the sates.”

More flexibility for churches

Meanwhile, a number of area churches say they only have a small number, if any, marriage ceremonies planned in the next couple months.

“We do have some scheduled in June, so we’re not sure exactly what we’ll do, yet,” said Tess Miller, administrative assistant for St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Le Sueur. “We haven’t called it off on anything, but what it’s coming down to is you can’t have more than 10 people at a gathering.”

She estimated that the parish hosts fewer than 10 weddings per summer, which she said offers it somewhat more flexibility than nearby event spaces. While both common wedding locations having to adapt, couples who have had to reschedule are also trying to stay positive.

“Basically, for me, it’s not about the date that you’re getting married, it’s about that you’re going to be with that person, no matter what,” said Watkins. “It doesn’t matter what date I picked. I’m still gong to have a good day.”

Reporter Bridget Kranz can be reached at 507-444-2376. Follow her on Twitter @OPPBridget. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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