According to Dripping Springs Visitors Bureau President Pam Owens, the city’s 35-plus venues lost essentially 100% of revenue from April, the busiest wedding month of the year. Those losses reverberate across Dripping Springs’ tourism economy.
“[Weddings] fill hotel rooms and lodgings. Until weddings take place, our lodgings are not going to be full. Until weddings can happen, we’re kind of at a loss,” Owens said.
When visitors come to Dripping Springs to celebrate nuptials, they also frequent the 30-plus Hill Country wineries, breweries and distilleries in the area, and find entertainment at music and dance venues downtown, including the Mercer Street Dance Hall and Hudson’s on Mercer, according to Owens.
Some businesses have been cleared for limited operations or have received tentative reopening dates from Gov. Greg Abbott, who said bars may be able to open May 18. For businesses that depend on people gathering, however, no timeline was suggested in Abbott’s recent executive order.
“It really did not specifically talk about the wedding industry and gathering. There’s a lot of gray areas,” said Kim Hanks, CEO of event company Whim Hospitality and wedding venue Camp Lucy.
Through Whim Hospitality, Hanks works with around 75 venues in the Dripping Springs and Austin areas each year, she estimates. She said the local venues and vendors she knows are working together as a community to gauge the way forward, discussing strategy and safety through Zoom calls and other means.
“We’re trying to come together as a wedding community to find some clarity,” Hanks said.
According to Hanks, she and her peers are holding out for May 18, the date when Abbott has said he will initiate the second phase of his Open Texas plan, which may allow restaurants to expand to 50% capacity, among other developments. If public health circumstances allow for expanded gatherings in restaurants, Hanks believes the governor may be ready to address the event industry, too.
In the meantime, Whim Hospitality and other vendors are dealing with flattened business, mass reschedulings and huge layoffs. Hanks said she had to lay off around 150 Whim employees, which was 70% of her staff.
“It’s taken us eight years to build the team that we had, and to let them go, it was really shuttering. Even though we didn’t shutter, it felt like that,” she said.
The effects of the industry’s stall have left smaller florists, bakers and caterers scrambling, too. Popular Dripping Springs wedding cake vendor Cakes Rock! has managed to maintain employees by pivoting to retail over commission, according to owner Christy Seguin, but the shift to cinnamon buns, kolaches and cupcakes has not been enough to make a profit.
Some clients have continued to commission small cakes from Cakes Rock! for family birthdays and the like, asking for quarantine-themed confections like toilet paper-shaped cakes. Seguin, whose creations have been televised on the Cooking Channel and Netflix’s Sugar Rush, said she feels a loss, however, while not baking the elaborate wedding cakes she takes the most pride in.
“We lost every cake on our books. Every cake got wiped, from March, to April, to May,” Seguin said. “I grieved the loss of the cakes because I’m an artist.”
Seguin might get the chance to make some of those cakes in the future. Many spouses-to-be have rescheduled their weddings for the summer and fall, with the next wave of weddings scheduled for June, Owens said. However, with the safety of mass gatherings in coming months still uncertain, Seguin worries that indefinite postponements will turn into permanent cancellations. She is preparing for that reality by building up the retail side of her business as much as possible for the time being.
“I plan to actually keep the retail in the future. I’m hoping that maybe that’s the blessing in disguise,” she said.
Hanks, too, is managing her expectations for the summer and fall wedding seasons—fall being the next most popular time for weddings in Texas, after spring.
“We’re hoping that we have a very busy fall, but right now, we’re on hold,” Hanks said.
As the wait continues, brides and grooms continue to call asking for clarity on when their planning can resume, but the professionals of Dripping Springs’ wedding industry are waiting for clarity, too.
“Love hasn’t been canceled,” Hanks said. “We tell them, ‘We are so excited to work with you on your wedding. We’re waiting for May 18th to hear what’s going to happen.’”