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Central Coast wedding professionals support one another as they ride the highs and lows of COVID-19 

After a tumultuous 2020 that was upended by COVID-19, local wedding photographer Leana Myra decided she would take most of 2021 off—focusing her time instead on raising kids at home during a pandemic.

When she finally reactivated her wedding website this past December, the 13-year industry veteran quickly saw "the wedding boom" that her peers in the business had been talking about. Compared to the doldrums of 2020, the number of inquiries that poured into Myra's inbox was almost overwhelming.

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"I wasn't actually sure what it was going to be like—I'd heard there was a boom happening," Myra told New Times. "But I put my website back up, and just this month in January, I've booked 14 weddings. I'm having one after another, after another, after another. I'm getting multiple inquiries every single day."

Myra said she's certainly grateful for the work. Across its spectrum, COVID-19 hit the wedding industry hard in 2020, as many couples postponed or canceled their big days.

Patrick Ang, another local wedding photographer, admitted he "freaked out a little bit" in the months following March 2020. But ultimately, he made do, relying on a surge of elopements and small weddings, and some financial help from the government.

"It was kind of nice," Ang reflected, "because the ceremonies were a lot more intimate and more comfortable."

After two years, many of the early COVID-19 trends are still here—like smaller weddings and elopements—but the proverbial bottleneck burst wide open. Local wedding professionals say they have a historic year ahead.

"A lot of people have said they're going to have busiest year of their career," Myra said.

click to enlarge BOOKED 2022 is gearing up to be a historically busy year for weddings. Venues like the Madonna Inn in SLO, which are not accustomed to booking many non-weekend weddings, are filling up even on weekdays. - COURTESY PHOTO BY LAUREN CATE PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Courtesy Photo By Lauren Cate Photography
  • BOOKED 2022 is gearing up to be a historically busy year for weddings. Venues like the Madonna Inn in SLO, which are not accustomed to booking many non-weekend weddings, are filling up even on weekdays.

Venues like the Madonna Inn in SLO, which are not accustomed to booking many non-weekend weddings, are filling up even on weekdays due to the surge.

"After many cancellations in 2020, we did indeed have a lot of weddings rebook for 2021 and 2022," said Amanda Rich, the Madonna Inn's marketing manager. "Since weekends are booking up, we are able to accommodate guests during the week, which is usually a slower time for us. So, the days when we normally would have no banquet business, we are seeing parties book."

Amid these ups and downs, Central Coast wedding industry members said there's been one constant throughout: a friendly, supportive community of peers. "Community over competition" is the mantra that industry leaders and veterans practice and preach.

"It's a super supportive area," Myra said. "It's very unlike San Francisco, unlike LA, unlike every area I've worked in, in terms of community. There's a lot of just knowledge here in the area that when you help your competition, they end up helping you. There's plenty of work for everyone to go around."

click to enlarge DOWN THE AISLE Wedding Games teams battle to see who can run down the aisle fastest while being hit by pool noodles. The annual event is indicative of how the local wedding industry is defined by a motto of "community over competition." - PHOTO COURTESY OF PATRICK ANG
  • Photo Courtesy Of Patrick Ang
  • DOWN THE AISLE Wedding Games teams battle to see who can run down the aisle fastest while being hit by pool noodles. The annual event is indicative of how the local wedding industry is defined by a motto of "community over competition."

Nowhere is that camaraderie more on display than at the annual Wedding Games—a fun-filled, action-packed day where dozens of Central Coast industry members get together to bond, blow off steam, and play wedding-themed games. This year's event took place on Feb. 6 at the Dana Powers House Wedding Venue in Nipomo—marking the games' triumphant return to being in person after two years. All of the proceeds benefit the Special Olympics organization.

"Five years ago, I thought it'd be so fun if we had our own little wedding Olympics," said Ang, the event's founder. "I came up with all these games that resemble wedding events. We have eight teams this year and they're from a variety different backgrounds—photographers, coordinators, florists, etc."

The games kick off with the "bridal entrance"—where each team comes out in matching outfits and performs a choreographed dance for judges. Then, there's the "aisle gauntlet," where teams run down the aisle as fast as they can while their peers try to slow them down with pool noodles. There's also "the cake-eating contest," "the first look," "the bouquet toss," "the family portrait," and more.

"It's really entertaining," Ang said. "Afterward, a lot of connections are made. Everyone is closer."

Ang said the good vibes within the local industry are unique. He thinks it has to do with the friendly nature of this particular area.

click to enlarge CHOWING DOWN A cake-eating contest is one of the many competitive events that make up the Wedding Games, a day-long annual event where members of the local wedding industry build camaraderie. This year's event took place on Feb. 6 at the Dana Powers House Wedding Venue. - PHOTO COURTESY OF PATRICK ANG
  • Photo Courtesy Of Patrick Ang
  • CHOWING DOWN A cake-eating contest is one of the many competitive events that make up the Wedding Games, a day-long annual event where members of the local wedding industry build camaraderie. This year's event took place on Feb. 6 at the Dana Powers House Wedding Venue.

"I think it's just the Central Coast," he said. "During COVID, just the mentality here, with the whole pandemic there is a lot of negativity, but as far as living here, I think it's just more open-minded and people are kinder here. It's not uncommon to see a helping hand."

Myra echoed that sentiment, saying there's an inclusive and welcoming attitude in the industry, especially now, as the demand for wedding services skyrockets into 2022.

"There's so many weddings here that we all need help," Myra said. "If you're new, and you're willing to do an assistant job for a while, you're welcome. For some reason in other places, they have an attitude and give the cold shoulder. That really doesn't happen here, and that's so nice." Δ

Assistant Editor Peter Johnson can be reached at pjohnson@newtimesslo.com.

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