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Couple postpones wedding twice as Maine's $937 million industry is crippled by COVID-19 restrictions

Businesses that rely on summer weddings for out-of-staters could stand to lose millions of dollars because of the coronavirus pandemic.

SACO, Maine — Colleen Hullings and her fiancé Michael Kelly have been planning their wedding for the last two years only to have it not happen. 

“I was an emotional hot mess,” Colleen said in an interview with NEWS CENTER Maine.

The couple now will have to wait another year because of the health restrictions for COVID-19.

Hullings and Kelly, who live in New York, were scheduled to have their wedding at their family’s home in Ogunquit in June.

As the outbreak started, the couple first pushed back the wedding to Augusta. Then as it grew more intense and states implemented stricter guidelines, they were forced to put it off to next year.

"My greatest worry was that it was going to rain on our wedding and now I don't care if it was a monsoon because at least we'd be able to have our wedding. It's insane,” Hullings said.

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They are part of a massive wedding tourism industry in Maine that has been crippled by the coronavirus.

Gov. Mills has mandated a strict 14-day quarantine for all out-of-state travelers and prohibited large gatherings, even as some businesses start to reopen.

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According to a report released by the University of Southern Maine in 2019, weddings and wedding tourism contribute upwards of $927 million a year to the state’s economy. The study found that money supports nearly 14,000 jobs.

“I'm just riding it out there's not much I can do,” photographer Brittany Bugaj said.

Her ‘Two Adventurous Souls’ photography business books dozens of weddings a year. Most of the scheduled events have been canceled or postponed until next summer.

Bugaj said she does not know how she will be able to make up for the loss of the entire season with most of her clients being from away.

“80-90 percent of our couples are coming from out of state and they're bringing their family friends with them,” she said.

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Saco-based event and catering company Blue Elephant is experiencing the same problem.

From corporate gatherings to weddings, it has months of planned events on hold.

"Everything we do involves 200 plus people. This is a really scary time for a lot of us,” co-owner Reuben Bell said.

He and his partner, Fausto Pifferrer, are bracing to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars with the cancellations of upwards of 125 weddings alone.

"I'll just be honest. If we don't work, we're living on the streets. Our phone has to ring," Pifferrer said.

They sent a letter to Gov. Janet Mills a month ago—urging her to consider caterers, photographers, DJs, and others in her tourism industry plans.

They have yet to receive a response.

NEWS CENTER Maine reached out to Gov. Mills' Office for comment. They were not able to confirm receipt of the letter, citing a ‘significant amount of mail.’

A spokesperson for the Department of Economic and Community Development issued the following statement:

"The Administration appreciates this constructive dialogue with the wedding industry and recognizes that this pandemic has caused people to reconsider the timing of their weddings, which, as a result, has a substantial impact on many businesses. As we have long said, it is the goal of the Administration to partner with industries across economic sectors, including the wedding industry, to evaluate ways for businesses to operate in a manner that minimizes risk and best protects public health and safety."

Pifferrer and Bill want to send a message to those planning weddings: postpone, don’t cancel.

“I want people to understand that if you all cancel, we're done,” Pifferrer said.

Couples like Colleen and Michael have decided to do that—even if it means waiting another year to say ‘I do.’

"We're basically rolling with it and doing what we can and trying to remain as positive as possible,” Kelly said.

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

NEWS CENTER Maine Coronavirus Coverage

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