As restrictions loosen for sport events, vendors in Hawaii’s wedding industry want rules to be relaxed for their ceremonies and receptions.
The COVID-19 pandemic directly impacted on the industry with mandates that prohibited large gatherings, resulting in vendors that include florists, bakers, caterers, wedding planners, makeup artists and others forced to shut down their businesses, said Joseph Esser, president of the Oahu Wedding Association.
Indoor gatherings are still capped at 10 people under Oahu’s Tier 3 restrictions. In late March, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi and Gov. David Ige relaxed restrictions for the wedding industry and approved outdoor weddings of up to 100 people on Oahu.
With many of the eligible population ages 12 and older vaccinated, masks no longer required outdoors and Blangiardi anticipating a move to Tier 4 soon that would allow gatherings of 25 people, the wedding association seeks further loosening of restrictions on wedding sizes.
At a recent news conference, Blangiardi said he supports increasing wedding size. With no reports of any clusters or surges tied to wedding ceremonies and receptions, Blangiardi said he plans to submit a request to the governor to further loosen restrictions. “I am, for one, in favor for that expansion.”
Ige said his office is looking at data and working with the state Department of Health “to determine which restrictions we can begin to relax.”
“We are looking at those, especially those that impact businesses, to look at what we would be able to relax in a way that maintains health and safety. Part of that is, Are there procedures or policies that we can put in place to allow these events to grow in size? Certainly, we are evaluating all of those things and would be reviewing that as we move forward,” he said during the news conference.
The past year has been a struggle for vendors.
Sandra Williams, founder and principal planner at Finishing Touch Hawaii, questioned whether her career was going to end when the pandemic hit last year, which marked the 15th anniversary of her business.
“We all thought it was going to be over in a few months,” she said of the pandemic. “All of our March weddings pretty much got postponed within weeks, and then it just snowballed.”
A lot of vendors moved, retired or pivoted to doing something else, Williams said.
Esser, owner of Joseph Esser Photography, said the impact is not as noticeable to the public when vendors leave the wedding industry, because many work from home. “We don’t have ‘out of business’ signs in front of our store,” he said. “There’s been a lot of businesses that have closed shop.”
The Oahu Wedding Association recently submitted a letter to the mayor’s office stating the urgent need to allow indoor weddings of more than 10 people. The hope is to get partial capacity for indoor events, Esser said. The association also seeks an increase the size of outdoor weddings.
Some engaged couples, especially those with large families, are sticking to their original guest count of 100-plus as they anxiously wait for the city and state to increase wedding sizes.
Other couples opted to hold a small wedding ceremony via Zoom or significantly reduce their guest count to adhere to the current COVID-19 mandates.
Dara Azuma Lampugnale and her husband, Cy Lampugnale, of Boston got married April 25 at Lanikuhonua on the Leeward Coast. The wedding was a vow renewal of sorts, as the couple first exchanged vows in Boston six months earlier.
The Lampugnales original planned to marry in September with up to 150 guests. Due to the pandemic, the couple modified their plans and held two intimate celebrations instead: an October wedding ceremony in Boston with her husband’s family and Azuma Lampugnale’s family attending via Zoom, and a second celebration held in Hawaii with the bride’s family.
Thirty guests attended the couple’s wedding on Oahu. Because of the long flight from the East Coast and concerns with health risks, Azuma Lampugnale, 31, who is originally from Nuuanu and moved to Boston six years ago, said they decided to invite guests already residing in Hawaii to their wedding and reception at Lanikuhonua.
“Given the circumstances, it was probably like the best outcome that could’ve been. We were very fortunate,” she said during a phone interview from Boston.
After restrictions were amended to allow outdoors weddings of up to 100 people, Williams coordinated her first outdoor wedding April 16 for Jenny and Eric Choi of San Jose, Calif.
“My husband really wanted to have a wedding in Hawaii,” said Jenny Choi, 35, who also got married at Lanikuhonua. Their original destination wedding date was set for October with 150 guests.
The couple postponed their wedding to April and reduced the guest count to just under 25, inviting family members from South Korea, where she is originally from, and her husband’s family from California.
Their new plans of an intimate wedding were already in place when Blangiardi and Ige approved outdoor weddings of up to 100 people. “We were very happy but kind of sad that we couldn’t invite friends,” Choi said during a phone interview from San Jose.
Williams, who also coordinated Azuma Lampugnale’s wedding, set up a station where masked guests underwent temperature checks and filled out health forms. “Never in a million years that I thought I would take people’s temperature. Typically, we’d like to greet them with a glass of champagne,” she said.
“It’s such a blessing to go from where we were last year to where we are right now,” Williams added. “We can’t wait to hear the next step.”