Wedding and event industry vendors in Christian County are petitioning Gov. Andy Beshear to allow all event venues across Kentucky to reopen at a percentage of their capacity limits.
At this time, event venues must hold a 605 permit from the state Department for Public Health in order to open at 33% capacity on Friday, along with restaurants.
Currently, venues without this permit are not allowed to open for operation until July 1 under Phase 3 of the governor’s plan to reopen the economy.
“(A) 605 permit is one of the food establishment permits that are issued by local health departments to all food services that prepare/handle foods such as restaurants,” said Kayla L. Bebout, public health director for the Christian County Health Department, in an email.
“Guidance that CCHD (Christian County Health Department) received Monday afternoon from the State department of Public Health is that venues that have a 605 Food Establishment permit would be allow to open on May 22, 2020 with the restaurants at 33% capacity, as long as they met the minimum requirement from the KY Healthy at Work website (https://govstatus.egov.com/ky-healthy-at-work), in addition to the restaurant requirements on that website.”
Bebout said there are currently 240 “605 Food Establishments” in Christian County.
Danielle Renshaw, owner of Ruffled Willow, a customized event floral design business, wrote a letter to the governor this week addressing venue restrictions.
“We are asking that the executive order be changed to reflect a percentage of occupancy for venues in the same manner that restaurants, retailers and other businesses are afforded,” Renshaw wrote in the letter. “This logical amendment will help to salvage our businesses and the Kentucky event community as well as the important life events of our clients while still implementing best practices for the safety of our community.”
Renshaw said at least 175 individuals have signed an online petition requesting this executive order amendment. Individuals include wedding vendors, families, friends and clients.
“We are asking our Governor to give the wedding venues the same rights and regulations as restaurants, retail and churches,” Renshaw wrote in the letter.
“Our businesses want to be afforded the same rights as other businesses in Kentucky, especially since weddings require travel and complex planning.”
Renshaw noted that event venues not being allowed to open at some capacity affects more than just the venue owners.
“It’s a trickle-down effect,” she said in a phone interview. “When the venues can’t open, then your wedding florists can’t be in business, your wedding photographer, your wedding videographer. By one business not being able to be open, five others are affected by that decision.”
Renshaw said weddings are popular at this time of year and with venues closed that hurts Kentucky’s economy.
“May and June, other than October and September, are the No. 1 months to get married,” she said. “It’s a billion-dollar industry. All we’re doing by not having these venues open is sending them to states with fewer restrictions. I’ve seen it happen, where they are eloping to Tennessee to a venue that can be open. We are just losing Kentucky money.”
Sara Shepherd of Burdoc Farms Weddings & Events said being closed for the past two months has hurt her business and other vendors she partners with for weddings.
“I’ve had to reschedule weddings for the months of March, April, May and June,” she said. “Some of these were from out of state, and they’re just not going to have their weddings here. They were coming here to stay at hotels, spend money in restaurants and gas stations, using local vendors … It could be between $125,000 to $135,000 per wedding just in the money they would spend locally.”
Shepherd said she understands the serious health care crisis of COVID-19 and is prepared to practice safe Healthy at Work guidelines like other businesses.
“How are we different than a restaurant? How are we different than a church? Those are social gathering places,” she said. “My argument is if I am willing to do what it takes to open and do what the state wants us to do — check temperatures, get names, ask the questions, have hand sanitizing stations, wear masks, wear gloves and do all of those things, why can I not open at 33% like restaurants?”
Shepherd said her facility has both indoor and outdoor spaces available for events.
“Our spaces are a lot more open than a restaurant, than some churches are,” she said. “We can put people outside. We can social distance people. We can probably control better what happens at an event than a church can, than a restaurant can, than Walmart can. And we’re willing to do it.”
Cindy Noel, a mother of a bride-elect, is concerned about venues opening, too. Her daughter, Caroline Noel, is engaged to marry Austin Hayes on Aug. 1 at Southside Church of Christ, with a reception planned at Naimoli Estate.
“We’re just going to take it day-to-day,” Noel said. “I keep telling myself that it’s not just the Noel-Hayes wedding. It’s a lot of girls and a lot of guys and a lot of families affected … It’s tough for me to understand how we determine what is essential versus nonessential.”
Noel said Caroline and Austin have cut their guest list to just over 100, but they are seeking detailed state guidance about venues reopening — and at what capacity — before their wedding invitations are mailed in June.
“We’re going to keep a positive attitude. The good part is we know it can happen. The churches will be open so the wedding can take place,” Noel said. “We need to have a better idea if we’re just having a wedding right now and postponing the reception. It’s been very chaotic, but we’re trying to make the best of it.”
Noel, who is a registered nurse, said she understands the importance of safety during the coronavirus pandemic at any event at any location, but she wants to honor her daughter’s wishes for her wedding.
“I’m just trying to be sensible,” she said. “(COVID-19) is serious and we have to take it seriously. I do believe that if people don’t feel comfortable coming (to the wedding) they won’t come. That’s perfectly fine with me. That’s their decision … But also, if we decide to carry on, I don’t want people to be upset that we carried on.”
Renshaw and Shepherd agree they need definitive guidance from the governor’s office regarding event venues, but they also want equal rights for their businesses.
“Venues, in general, have not been addressed by the governor at all. I know we’re a unique industry, but there are a ton of us in the state of Kentucky,” Shepherd said.
“I understand why we need to be safe. (COVID-19) is serious … but if we’re going to start opening up, getting back to some kind of normal on some level, we’ve got to be allowed to do that.”