Events came to an abrupt halt last March, but many West Hartford businesses like photographers, DJs, and venue owners are optimistic that things will finally resume by this summer.
By Kristina Vakhman
Connecticut’s rapid vaccination rollout, warmer weather, and relaxed gathering rules have local businesses feeling optimistic about the coming event season.
“People are tired of waiting,” said Amber Jones, who has been a wedding photographer and also runs a boudoir photography studio in West Hartford.
Connecticut rolled back restrictions on events in late March when Gov. Ned Lamont announced increased capacity for indoor and outdoor gatherings. Events like weddings and parties are now capped at 100 people indoors, up to 50%, and are allowed to have up to 200 people outdoors.
The loosened restrictions depend on Connecticut keeping a low positivity rate and a high vaccination rate; the state has already distributed more than 2 million doses.
“We’ve been really on our toes because the guidelines have been changing [so much]. We definitely think we’re turning a new leaf,” Delamar Director of Catering Erin Neagle said.
For locations with large event spaces like the Delamar Hotel in West Hartford, the new rules and the vaccine create an opportunity for a peak summer. Neagle said the hotel has the space to hold gatherings that are in line with guidelines. People are showing interest and the Delamar will be hiring more hands to assist with the busy season, she said.
And as Connecticut continues its efforts to combat COVID – which includes venues doing everything to follow protocol – Neagle is looking forward to when the state reaches a point where it will be safe for masks to be a recommendation and not mandatory.
“I’m really hoping more and more people get vaccinated and mask restrictions get lenient,” she said.
Business owners like Jane Shauck of West Hartford-based IRIS Photography think that the vaccine especially will build consumer confidence in holding events.
“I think it’s a whole different ball game now that we’re all getting vaccinated,” said Shauck, who does wedding, commercial, and portrait photography with her husband, Mike. They’ll both be fully vaccinated by mid-April.
IRIS is getting tons of bookings, Shauck said. Extended family portraits in particular are pretty popular, as families who haven’t seen each other in over a year want to get photographed together over the summer. The studio had more family portrait bookings than ever last year, too.
“That was great because it helped us pay our rent and keep our business strong,” Shauck said.
IRIS is also doing more weddings than usual. Shauck has had one client reschedule their “big day” four times.
“I think people who have delayed their wedding are anxious to do [them],” she said.
While IRIS is excited about returning to in-person sessions, Shauck said that the coronavirus also showed her the benefits of going online. She’s able to work with clients who are out-of-state and will even be exploring remote headshots.
Going virtual is something that Brandon “DJ Darth Fader” Blain, who owns Society of Sounds, took advantage of as well. He’s had clients ask him to do virtual events and he himself went from streaming to just his family to streaming on the platform Twitch to an audience every week.
“It’s kind of something that grew out of necessity. I felt that people needed a distraction and needed some kind of release and escape,” he said.
Streaming is something that Blain plans on continuing, but he hopes that in-person gatherings will come back and return the business he and the event spaces he works with, like local restaurants, lost to the pandemic.
“I was doing well enough to have some liquid cash flow set aside to be able to weather the storm, but at this point in time, it’s been over a year,” Blain said. “The calendar is starting to kind of come into place. I feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel now.”
For Jones, the coronavirus was a sign to stick to one-on-one photography. She decided even before the coronavirus that she wasn’t going to be photographing weddings anymore, and though she has eight rescheduled for this year, the pandemic really showed her that the move away from large-scale events was right for her.
“It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in the future if people are more okay with smaller ceremonies and smaller receptions,” Jones said, who’s also had a client push their wedding back four times because of COVID-19.
Many of Jones’ clients are healthcare professionals, she said, who want to treat themselves to a nice shoot after a stressful year, and she’s happy to welcome them back to the studio.
“They are so ready to feel like they can take care of themselves and not everyone else,” she said.
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