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Couples wary of wedding ceremonies following pandemic

Many of the ceremonies being held this year are postponements from last year.

As spring 2020 approached, events manager Mary Rowen was gearing up for Paicines Ranch’s biggest wedding season in years. The venue, located at 13388 Airline Highway in Paicines, already had 21 weddings booked for the year.

But as a couple was en route to Paicines Ranch from Minnesota for their March 21 wedding, many businesses across the nation came to a halt because of the rapid spread of COVID-19.

The entrance to the Paicines Ranch event barn, usually used for event cocktail hours, is also extra table space the venue can use for events. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.
The entrance to the Paicines Ranch event barn, usually used for event cocktail hours, is also extra table space the venue can use for events. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.

“That poor bride, she had everything with the date on them and everything was pre-ordered,” Rowen recalled. “She lived in Minnesota, but all of her family was from Hollister, so she had been having all of her stuff shipped [to Paicines Ranch]. We had all of her wedding stuff stored here for two years.”

Rowen had to postpone the March 21 event—and numerous others—until the fall. “We all thought that, for sure, things would be open by then,” she laughed. 

But when fall approached, Rowen saw the spread of COVID-19 was continuing and San Benito County’s risk tiers were frequently changing. The venue then decided to cancel its remaining events for the year. 

The wedding coordinator for Jardines de San Juan, Bly Morales, experienced similar circumstances when the restaurant, located at 115 Third Street in San Juan Bautista, was forced to cancel its events for the remainder of the 2020 season. 

Behind Jardines de San Juan restaurant, lies a spacious garden and patio area for its outdoor events. Photo courtesy of Jardines de San Juan.
Behind Jardines de San Juan restaurant, lies a spacious garden and patio area for its outdoor events. Photo courtesy of Jardines de San Juan.

“We were booked from March until October, every Saturday for 2020,” she said. “We had about 45-50 events that needed to be postponed because of COVID. We thought it was only going to be six weeks; maybe six months. So I got a crash course in postponements,” she joked, noting that some weddings had to be postponed twice. “It was very devastating.”

According to Morales, Jardines rebooked 95% of its postponed weddings for 2021.

“Cultural ceremonies were still allowed, but not gatherings,” Morales said of Jardines’ guidelines. “It’s a fine line to walk in this industry; you have to be conscious of people being comfortable and feeling welcome, but you also want to keep people safe.”

So far, Paicines Ranch has seen a decline in the number of weddings booked for 2021. 

The Paicines Ranch barn has always had great airflow. "We feel that so much of what we’ve done has been preparing us for [the pandemic], because of the nature of our venue," Mary Rowen said. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.
The Paicines Ranch barn. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.

“Where we would probably have more than 21 weddings, we have only seven for this upcoming season,” Rowen said. Six of them were ones postponed from 2020.

“There’s a chance we may get a couple more for this fall, but I think people are still hesitant.”

Following all safety protocols, Paicines Ranch was able to host one wedding during the pandemic: the one postponed from March 21, 2020.

The new backfilled area allows guests to be seated outside, while still being part of the celebrated events. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.
The new backfilled area allows guests to be seated outside, while still being part of the celebrated events. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.

This year on March 20, the patient couple experienced the wedding they had booked two years prior. The guest list was tapered down from 150 people to 50; the ceremony was held outside and the reception was held in the barn. The couple were required to devise a seating chart that placed only household groups at the same table. Guests were asked to wear masks, unless eating or drinking, and sanitation stations were set up inside and outside of the barn. 

“For the bride, it was her third date,” lamented Rowen. “They really wanted to stick close to that weekend, so we called the state health department two weeks before, and they told us that we could follow the restaurant guidelines. One week before the date, we went from the purple tier into the red tier. At that point, we could fit 25% indoors; the barn can fit 250 people, so with 50 people we were able to space everybody out.” 

Though Jardines did not host wedding receptions during the height of the pandemic, it did cater private events. The restaurant, however, followed strict guidelines and only delivered food. “No staff was involved—it was just like dropping off a to-go order, basically,” Morales said.

When Jardines begins hosting events again—they have 60 booked for this year—it will also only allow household groups to be seated together at tables.

“Guests will have to wear masks when they’re up from their table,” Morales added. “We can have up to 250 people if it is outdoors. But anything over 100, guests will need to provide a negative COVID test or proof of vaccination.”

Food will be served to guests, as opposed to buffet-style. For the time being, Jardines de San Juan is only booking outdoor weddings and receptions. 

New and upcoming wedding venues, such as Swank Farms’ Bonnie’s Barn, will open its doors after months of waiting for California to give the green light for indoor events.

The entrance to Bonnie's Barn is a sight for sore eyes, landscaped with a beautiful flower garden at its entrance. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.
The entrance to Bonnie’s Barn is landscaped with a flower garden at its entrance. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.

“We wanted to diversify more,” said Dick Swank (owner of Swank Farms) of his pumpkin patch and farm attraction. 

Five truck loads of wood, from Post and Beam in Nebraska, helped create Bonnie's Barn. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.
Five truck loads of wood, from Post and Beam in Nebraska, helped create Bonnie’s Barn. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.

In January of 2018, a permit was obtained to build a barn and ceremony site on its property at 4751 Pacheco Pass Highway in Hollister. Construction on the barn began in March 2020 and was completed last month. 

Bonnie Swank “unfortunately did not get to see the grand finale,” Dick said of his wife, who died in January. “She basically created this with her design team.”

Couples will be able to perform ceremonies facing the barn or facing the Gabilan Mountains. Cocktail hours can be held outdoors, followed by dinners inside the barn. 

Bonnie Swank studied apparel design in college, leading to various jobs in the fashion field. Her talent for design brought a new element to Swank Farms. According to Dick, the idea and implementation of Bonnie’s Barn was hers.

“We’re going to fill a void here,” he said.

The second floor bridal suite in Bonnie's Barn. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.
The second floor bridal suite in Bonnie’s Barn. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.

Swank Farms’ wedding coordinator, Josh Villegas, said the venue will also be following state guidelines with its upcoming wedding season, scheduled to begin in July. Like Paicines Ranch and Jardines, guidelines such as social distancing, occupancy restrictions, and assigned seating of families and households will all be in place. 

“Most couples plan to keep their events outdoors for the safety of their loved ones,” Villegas noted. “However, Bonnie’s Barn has the ability to open all windows and sliding doors to allow for thorough airflow.”   

Although the ceremonial site at Swank Farms is still in its final stages of completion, Villegas said weddings are already booked for this year and next. 

“The pandemic has affected many businesses and families across the U.S,” he added. “We are hoping as the state begins to open back up, we are able to bring people together in a safe, controlled environment to continue to celebrate love and life milestones.” 

At the time this article was posted, San Benito County was in the Orange Tier (moderate). 

Current guidelines for places of worship/church ceremonies, click here.  

 

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Jenny Mendolla Arbizu

Jenny is a Hollister native who resides in her hometown with her husband and son. She graduated from San Benito High School, and received her BA in Literature from UC Santa Cruz and her MA in Education from San Jose State University. Jenny has written for the Hollister Freelance, San Benito Magazine and South Valley Magazine. She finds joy in meeting new people in San Benito County and in spotlighting the county’s events and businesses. When not writing, Jenny can be found cuddling with her fur-babies, performing with SBSC, singing with the Hollister VFW, or doing rope climbs at Cold Storage CrossFit.