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‘We’re not just hobbyists’: Wedding industry overlooked by Manitoba Bridge Grant

A wedding venue set up for Mikayla and Athony Bishop is shown on Oct. 31, 2020, at Cooper Cerek Event Center in Blue Ash, Oh.
A wedding venue set up for Mikayla and Athony Bishop is shown on Oct. 31, 2020, at Cooper Cerek Event Center in Blue Ash, Oh. Cooper Creek Event Center/Facebook

Dresses remained hung, suits went un-buttoned and aisles clear of flower petals.

“Something blue” took on a new meaning when COVID-19 swept Manitoba.

As couples across the province cancelled or rescheduled their weddings — sometimes several times — due to the pandemic, the people behind the scenes also went without an income.

Small businesses across the province saw a glimmer of hope when the Manitoba Bridge Grant was announced by the province Nov. 16 — $5,000 promised before the end of the year, and perhaps again in the new year.

Read more: Manitoba business grant program open for applications: Pallister

Lauren Wiebe, owner of Stone House Creative, said she was thrilled by the news of some financial relief.

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Lauren Wiebe, owner of Stone House Creative, is a studio florist specializing in weddings for the past 12 years./Vanessa Renae Photography.
Lauren Wiebe, owner of Stone House Creative, is a studio florist specializing in weddings for the past 12 years./Vanessa Renae Photography.

“This year what I took home was $15,000, which is horrendous, especially because I work full time and have been working with my clients for two years already,” said Wiebe.

Once in the application process, Wiebe realized it was a different story.

“It was hung up on this, ‘you must have a physical retail space that was closed to customers,'” she said.

A confused Wiebe said she and many others in the industry are speaking up in a Manitoba wedding vendor Facebook group, realizing all the eligibility criteria they do meet isn’t enough.

Wiebe said she sells a product and a service, collects and pays PST and GST, yet still doesn’t qualify because of some brick and mortar.

When answering the eligibility questions on the government’s website, this is one of the questions requiring a yes or no answer:

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“Do you operate a business that sells goods or services that is located within a recreational facility, gym, fitness centre, museum, library, movie theatre, concert hall, bingo hall, VLT gaming room, or casino that was directed to be closed by a public health order?”

Underneath the question, a note appears stating, “to apply under this category, you must have an established and regular financial expense, such as rent, fee or commission, for the use of the premises or be the full or co-owner of the premises that were ordered closed to the public.”

This is the reason Wiebe and other local vendors are speaking up, sharing the hashtag #MYBUSINESSISNOTAHOBBY.

Wiebe says the vast majority of her 2020 bookings have been postponed to 2021, which accounts for roughly 80 per cent of her revenue.

She said it’s not just a financial loss for this year, but also the next.

“What I can offer clients is a date, and just one date,” said Wiebe. “If I’m booked by a couple for a wedding date, I can’t take on another wedding.”

When looking at her spreadsheets, Wiebe said she postponed roughly $115,000 in 2020 to the 2021 calendar year — or 20 weddings.

“That number will only stay the same if gathering sizes are magically no longer limited, I really don’t anticipate that people will be able to have 200 person weddings next year,” she said.

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That means when the numbers are crunched, Wiebe said it will look more like less than $60,000.

Read more: September: Winnipeg wedding industry ‘devastated’ by Monday’s new restrictions

It’s the same tale for photographer Kassandra Donaldson, who went from a 37 wedding season down to 10.

What should have been $80,000-90,000 in revenue at the end of the year was slashed to $25,000 — now without any support.

Kassandra Donaldson has been working as a local wedding photographer since 2015./SUPPLIED
Kassandra Donaldson has been working as a local wedding photographer since 2015./SUPPLIED.

“What would you like us to do? If you don’t want us to break the law and put people at risk by not working, then how are we supposed to do this?” Donaldson asks of the government. “Do you not want small businesses to thrive in Manitoba?”

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Donaldson said she was given an email to forward her questions about applying for the bridge grant seven days ago and still hasn’t received a response.

The only relief Donaldson said she has qualified for this year is the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which she needed to cut off when gathering limits in the province increased and weddings were more constant.

Both Wiebe and Donaldson echoed sentiments of wanting to feel seen by not only the government, but everyone who thinks the wedding industry is full of hobbyists.

“Our industry has been really strong, everyone has been banding together really fast to say that this is wrong,” said Donaldson. “I’m just really proud of our community.”