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Encore: The post-pandemic wedding boom

MILES PARKS, HOST:

This is expected to be a big year for weddings. Some are calling it the biggest wedding boom in decades, thanks in part to the backlog of celebrations postponed because of COVID. As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, it's not just the couples who are celebrating. So are the caterers, DJs and other service providers whose business has suffered because of all the pandemic delays.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: COVID forced Dani Joselson to cancel her wedding in the spring of 2020. So instead of saying I do in a charming, rustic barn on a Connecticut lake, she spent the night eating cold pizza at home, sobbing on Zoom to her would-be bridesmaids.

DANI JOSELSON: That was, like, literally the worst day. Like, I was, like, crying, up all night because that was supposed to be our day, you know.

SMITH: And that was just the beginning. She and her fiance rebooked for August.

JOSELSON: And then same sort of thing happened. And then same sort of thing happened again and again and again.

SMITH: Five times, actually.

JOSELSON: Oh, It was awful. I mean, like...

SMITH: Now, multiple save the dates later, their wedding is finally happening this year, along with some 2 1/2 million more. There are expected to be 15% more weddings this season, posing challenges for brides, grooms and their wedding guests.

CHERYL CARRIE: I have six that I'm attending and three that I'm in. And I'm, like, spending cash quick - dress, flight, shoes.

SMITH: Cheryl Carrie (ph) came to a recent bridal expo in Boston with one of her bride friends who's also facing mounting costs for all things wedding.

CARRIE: I like that. Cute.

SMITH: On display here are monogrammed drink stirrers, Mr. and Mrs. neon signs.

CARRIE: Cool. Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I like that.

SMITH: And Italian suits and gowns, which Giuliano Rubini says are going 50% faster than normal.

GIULIANO RUBINI: March for us has been a booming month, very, very busy. We are very happy.

SMITH: Spending per wedding is expected to jump 15% to 25% this year due to the intense demand, plus inflation and higher labor costs. Also, while some are downscaling to save money, others, like Ashley Lyden (ph), are going for bigger bashes. As one cocktail napkin here says, we waited years for this. Party accordingly.

ASHLEY LYDEN: We're kind of going over the top. We want it to be a little bit extra. Even the groom, he's got some plans. I'm like, OK, honey (laughter).

MANDY CONNOR: We're now looking at what I call the great uncorking.

SMITH: Wedding planner Mandy Connor says the season is so overbooked, couples are resorting to weekday weddings. And competition is so stiff, it's book it or lose it.

CONNOR: I've had clients sitting in the sales room of a venue texting me pictures of a contract so that they could sign in real time. That feels very hysterical, and it is just unheard of.

SMITH: Other curveballs this year? Supply chain issues are making it hard to come by such wedding staples as flowers and paper for invitations. And some couples who've rescheduled now have tuxes and dresses that no longer fit due to their quarantine 17 or baby bumps - or babies.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY BABBLING)

GARRETT WOOD: OK.

SMITH: The wedding that Garrett Wood (ph) planned for July 2020 got moved to '21 and then again to '22. And while she made peace with having to push that off, she was not OK postponing starting a family with her fiance.

WOOD: You don't know how long it's going to take you, so I didn't want him to have to wait till he was, you know, in his mid-40s or something to start having kids. So I was like, well, I could at least try. And we got pregnant.

SMITH: And so this year, instead of bridesmaids and groomsmen, she'll have a wedding party of one 1-year-old boy.

WOOD: The ceremony is before his bedtime, so hopefully he'll be a ring bearer.

JENNA MANTIS: Let's see. These are COVID tests.

SMITH: Yet another challenge for couples this season? Imposing their own COVID rules as cases tick up in many places and state restrictions are lifting. Jenna Mantis (ph) and her fiance have wedding guests who are extra vulnerable to COVID, so they're asking everyone to upload proof of vaccination and negative PCR tests.

MANTIS: I have unfortunately kind of realized in the past few years that can't necessarily take everybody at their word.

SMITH: They're also asking guests to take rapid tests on the day of. It's a lot, Mantis sighs, but they need to protect their loved ones.

MANTIS: If somebody really has a problem with it, then they don't have to come. That's fine.

SMITH: With all the extra complications and costs this year, some couples who've been waiting for their blow-out bash are reconsidering.

MYRA MEHMOOD: It's like, what does a wedding look like, you know, after you've been married for two years?

SMITH: When Myra Mehmood (ph) had to cancel her wedding reception in 2020, she did get legally married. So she's rethinking her 400-person extravaganza.

MEHMOOD: You kind of feel, like, cheated. But it's like now, do we really need to spend money on this right now or do we need to buy a house or, like, buy a car or groceries?

SMITH: Even if she did give in to those unworn wedding shoes still calling her from the closet, she'd likely have a long wait for that first dance, given how booked up this wedding season and the next already are. Tovia Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.