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Wedding Business Is Blooming for NYC Garden Venues

The Queens Botanical Garden has seen an uptick in wedding requests since reopening following the peak of the coronavirus crisis.
The Queens Botanical Garden has seen an uptick in wedding requests since reopening following the peak of the coronavirus crisis.
Courtesy Eryn Hatzithomas/Queens Botanical Garden

Kevin Viloria, an emergency medical technician from Bayside, Queens, endured so much stress and sadness during the peak of the coronavirus crisis that he didn’t want to postpone his planned October wedding.

But COVID-19 put the kibosh on the big, country-club reception with a guest list approaching 300 that he and his fiancée, Grace Veluya, had planned.

The solution? A small garden wedding.

“Because of what’s happening, it made us rethink what we can do and what we should do,” said Viloria, 29, who works for Northwell Health. “Times are uncertain and it’s been a struggle, but with everything I’ve seen, it made us solidify our plans to go forward, because, like, you never know.”

“We have been booking ceremonies a week to a month before because a lot of venues are still closed and the whole time frame has been compressed,” said Kamaria Dennis, who helps couples plan weddings at the 39-acre Queens Botanical Garden, which reopened July 21.

“A lot of people are just going with the flow and opting for something simple and elegant.”

The Queens County Farm Museum, which sits on 47 acres, offers wedding guests plenty of room for social distancing.
The Queens County Farm Museum, which sits on 47 acres, offers wedding guests plenty of room for social distancing.
Courtesy of the Queens County Farm Museum

Sarah Meyer, sales director for The Queens County Farm Museum, agreed.

“We have noticed an uptick in wedding inquiries now that New York is reopening,” she said, noting that the farm offered “beautiful grounds, growing fields and historic buildings.”

Meyers pointed out that the venue’s expansive grounds eased many couples’ coronavirus concerns.

“Since Queens Farm sits on 47 acres, we have plenty of room to accommodate social distancing,” she said.

Microweddings the ‘New Normal’

The Staten Island event-planning company Celebrate at Snug Harbor has also reported brisk sales of new “microwedding” packages.

“For the most part, it’s couples who want to live for the moment,” said Erin O’Keefe, catering and events specialist for Celebrate. “Maybe they’ve lost members of their family or they’re health care professionals and frontline heroes who want to adapt to the new normal.”

The smaller weddings are also less expensive, with the number of attendees of any “social gathering” capped at 50 in New York State. Celebrate, for instance, offers an a la carte microwedding package starting at $55 per person, compared to the usual $165 to $185 per head cost for a “full-blown six-hour event.”

Couples also have been adding special touches — like customized face masks — to mark the occasion, O’Keefe said.

“COVID is not stopping love or weddings,” O’Keefe said. “But couples are asking, ‘Do we really need 300 people on our guest list?’”

Snug Harbor offers 83 acres, encompassing a number of themed areas, including the Tuscan Garden, Rose Garden, Connie Gretz Secret Garden and New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden.

Those looking for religious weddings are also getting back to nature. The National Catholic Reporter noted “outdoor Catholic weddings could become a pandemic trend,” while Brooklyn bride Devora Schacter, a student at Touro College, chronicled her Orthodox Jewish garden wedding for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“In a way, the situation has allowed couples freedom from their family’s expectations,” said Dennis, who noted that the smaller weddings provided a departure from the massive celebrations traditional in certain cultures, including lavish Hindu weddings popular in the Queens Botanical Garden.

Queens couple Kevin Viloria and Grace Veluya scrapped their original country-club wedding plans and opted for a small garden wedding instead.
Queens couple Kevin Viloria and Grace Veluya scrapped their original country-club wedding plans and opted for a small garden wedding instead.
Courtesy Kevin Viloria and Grace Veluya

For Viloria and Veluya, part of a close-knit Filipino community who met at a gathering of the Philippine Bowling Club in 2012, limiting guests and asking friends not to bring children has proven difficult.

Their own baby boy, Grayson, will surely be in attendance, though.

“We definitely had to scale back to include only those who mean the most to us,” Viloria said. They ended up booking a private home in Fairfield, Conn., with a garden large enough to host their 60 or so guests.

“It’s always crazy planning for a wedding,” Viloria said. “Between my field of work and the fact that we have an 11-month-old, it’s been stressful. I’m just happy we found a way to do it in a nice, safe place.”

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