Churchill Downs Wedding Canceled

May 31, 2020 | COVID-19, Wedding Celebrations

Jessi Winner, 29, secured the perfect venue for her wedding, all the vendors were paid, and her bachelorette party and honeymoon flirted on the horizon. She was in the homestretch of wedding planning and eager to walk down the aisle on April 18. 

But the ultimate wedding crasher — a global pandemic — shut down the country and turned her dream wedding into a surreal nightmare. 

On March 18, a month before their big day, Jessi and her fiance made the difficult decision to cancel their wedding after Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s social distancing mandate. Jessi, a project manager by trade, had coordinated a 235-guest ceremony at Churchill Downs, but once her wedding planner explained that the race track was trying to figure out how to run the Kentucky Derby with six-feet of social distancing space between all the guests, she knew her wedding was going to be impossible to pull off. Churchill Downs offered Jessi a full refund and attempted an August reschedule date, but the couple decided to forgo the venue due to new language that would not guarantee a full refund in these uncertain times.

“At the end of the day, we couldn’t put our grandparents, our friends, and family members at risk,” Jessi said. “At first, it was heartbreaking, but I realized that we aren’t breaking up —we still have the same relationship and love — it is just that our plans have changed. We won’t be having a 235-person wedding. I really don’t know what type of wedding we will have or when it will take place, but I know it will be something more intimate. I’ve had friends cancel their weddings and head to the courthouse. It helps to have others around that are experiencing the same thing.”

Jessi Winner & her fiancé Creighton Jones.

Upon deciding to postpone the wedding, Jessi had to mail a letter to every guest saying that she would keep them posted on their future wedding plans but had no idea what those might be. She also took inventory as to which vendors were independent, local companies and called them to establish credit. “The wedding industry was hit hard by the coronavirus, and many small businesses can’t honor a refund. We prioritized which deposits to refund and which ones to roll over. We decided to support our florist by keeping the money in an account, and we plan to send flowers to people all year with the credit.”

Jessi had to cancel her bachelorette party and honeymoon to Costa Rica as well. “It has been more work cancelling this wedding than it was to plan it. It has been draining, but I suppose that is where the project manager in me thrived.” 

Diana Vela of Essential Details of Louisville, a destination management and event planning company, has had to reschedule three May/June weddings due to the coronavirus. “So far, most of the suppliers in the industry have been understanding and accommodating. We are all in this together, and we realize that every situation might look different right now. We are trying to help our clients reschedule and alleviate some of the stress during these uncertain times,” Diana says.

Essential Details created a Change-the-Date Coordination Service in response to its clients’ changing needs. The service helps to review vendor contracts and cancellation policies, research and secure replacement vendors, negotiate refunds, and reschedule venues. Diana and her colleagues are navigating our new normal, oftentimes attempting to ease a bride’s stress or choose a place setting from their couches via Zoom. 

P.S. When it’s time to plan events again, find inspiration in this rustic chic wedding. 

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