ST. JOSEPH – Some of the closest COVID-19 related restrictions continue to be placed on wedding and event centers. At the moment, brides and grooms can still hold the religious ceremony with guests, but if they want to host a reception or dance, they are limited to no more than 10 people from two different households.

Randy Schmitz is the owner of the Rolling Ridge Wedding and Event Center in St. Joseph. He says they were completely shut down last spring, they were allowed to open in the summer, but were then completely shut down again in November.

He says financial aid was in the form of the federal PPP program and county grants, but industry has excluded government grants.

The grants that became immediately available for most of the decommissioned businesses were not available for wedding and event venues. We have been specifically excluded from receiving these funds.

According to Schmitz, another program called the Shuttered Venue Assistance Fund is available for stages, cinemas and convention centers, but wedding venues are not suitable for these funds either. He says the money he’s received nowhere near covers the financial losses he suffered over the past year.

He says many couples with strict restrictions on licensed venues like his take their events to unregulated locations.

People with barns or sheds in the country see this as a potential business opportunity. They paint their barns, mow the lawns, and then open up to business. The same companies have disappeared from the radar, they don’t have the liquor licenses and usage permits that we have, and so these companies have disappeared from the radar and are not subject to the same if the state enforces current occupancy restrictions and penalties that we are further tightening.

Schmitz says that with the main wedding season starting in April and May, he hopes the restrictions will be relaxed as more people are vaccinated.

They were able to hold at least one wedding every weekend between June and October last year, and he says he’s booked around 60 weddings so far this year. Prior to 2020, around 99 percent of its business was related to weddings. In the meantime, Schmitz pays the bills with his personal cash flow and invests again in the business.

As for the popular Wood Fired Wednesday summer music series, he has plans and has almost completed the music palette and plans to follow any state guidelines that may apply during that time.

There was a bill on Thursday night at Minnesota House allowing people who apply for marriage permits to do so online for the next four months instead of having to do it in person. Republicans tried to amend this law to allow wedding venues to have the same occupancy as bars and restaurants, but it was rejected on procedural grounds.

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